What do you do when the life God seemingly prepared you for is lost in a moment?
That’s the question former International Mission Board missionary and church planter Ronnie Fox found himself asking after a massive stroke ravaged the motor portion of his brain in August 2010.
Most who have this kind of stroke don’t survive, but God wasn’t finished with Fox. He writes about his recovery and the life experiences that helped him heal in a new book, “Beyond My Strength,” which he typed himself using one finger.
“At the time, I felt like someone had backed up a dump truck and covered me with the full load of muddy dirt. It smothered me and I felt crushed,” Fox writes in his book.
As a result of the stroke, Fox lost his dominant right side to paralysis. He deals with constant dizziness. Parts of his vocal cords, tongue and throat are paralyzed, which results in both speech and swallowing issues.
“I admit I yelled at God, and He took it better than I did. He was not offended. … When I was distraught and miserable, He was not insulted by my tantrum. His love for me did not change because of my bad behavior,” Fox said.
He thought if he worked and prayed hard enough, God would heal him. But instead, Fox found himself moving in the other direction.
After extensive rehabilitation, he finally got to the point that he could use a cane to walk, but then due to the paralysis, his right leg started to atrophy. A walker was next.
Eventually he realized that even a walker was a fall risk and took too much energy. He surrendered to using a wheelchair. This gave him the freedom to do a lot more outside his home, but it was a very difficult choice to make.
“My first goal after the stroke was to be the exception to the rule. I was going to work hard and regain the physical abilities the stroke had taken from me. I fell into the trap because I believed I could beat the odds. It took time to finally admit I could not control the outcome.”
That was a hard conclusion to reach, since Fox’s life up to that point had revolved around family and ministry.
Early in life, Fox found he was very good at math. As a youth, he once built different types of dams to find the one that would create a small lake behind it, and he felt certain engineering was the career God had for him.
Instead, God called him to be an international missionary. He and his wife, Gwenn, struggled for months about accepting that call to ministry, especially concerned about uprooting their two young children.
But after spending time at a retreat, they felt led to read Genesis 22:1–2. Reading again about Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice, they knew they had their answer.
Both in tears, they decided to give their children back to God and follow His leading.
“Some well-intentioned Christians tried to assure us our children would be safe by saying, ‘The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will,’” Fox writes. “The statement is true, but it does not mean my children, my spouse, my friends, my colleagues and others I love will not have difficulties. It does not mean they will be protected from all harm. It does not promise protection from illness or even death.”
Fox learned those lessons in hard ways. In 1986, Fox and his family went to Peru with the IMB, where they served 18 years. During those years, he dealt with many hardships. He lost family, friends and colleagues and was once held at gun point. He has been robbed and vandalized and has felt the destructive power of car and truck bombs.
Still, Fox reflected, “I need to learn that the hardships in my life are not a way of testing my faith to see if it is strong enough. My faith does not need to be tested for God to evaluate me. He already knows. I do not measure up to His perfect standard in faith or in actions. I never have and never will.”
‘God is enough’
In 2004, Fox started a new phase as a church planting consultant at the North American Mission Board. The stroke changed everything, but not one vital truth: “God is enough,” Fox said. “God wanted me to trust Him in everything.
“Notice, I did not say He wanted me to understand everything. I did not. … I trust God more than my ability to understand it all.”
To read more and to find Fox’s book, visit beyondmystrength.com.