When Illness Strikes

by Donna Gaines


It was August 6th of 2000 when late that evening, unable to sleep, I found myself kneeling before the chair in my bedroom crying out to the Lord.  “God, please protect and heal my husband.” My heart constricted as I thought of our four children who needed their father, and how I needed him. How could I finish raising our children on my own?  It was at that moment I sensed the presence of the Lord in a tangible way, as these words were impressed upon my heart: “I am your husband and your children’s father… I Am.” I began to weep.

My Heavenly Father had not promised me that my husband would be healed, but He had reassured me He is enough. He is able to meet my every need.

My husband, Steve, had been diagnosed the week before with Myasthenia Gravis.  It is an autoimmune disease that causes extreme muscle weakness and fatigue. He was undergoing a thymectomy the next day. This surgery is much like open-heart surgery.  The sternum is severed to remove the thymus gland, which in my husband’s case was enlarged and contained a tumor.  He had grown increasingly weak and was experiencing double vision. One eyelid was closing (ptosis) to eliminate the blurred vision. We were reeling from the symptoms and subsequent diagnosis. They seemed to come out of nowhere on my otherwise extremely strong and healthy, 42-year-old, pastor husband. 

Steve recovered from the surgery and the tumor was benign. We began the grueling process of finding medications and dosages that would control the symptoms, and hopefully send his disease into remission.  There were severe digestive issues due to the strong medications, sleepless nights and a reoccurrence of childhood asthma. After a trip to the emergency room on the way to a football game, his breathing difficulties were finally relieved.

As you know, diseases don’t announce their arrival and they don’t usually choose convenient times. Our son, and oldest child, was a senior in high school.  His three sisters ranged from an 8th grader to a 6th grader, and our youngest who was in the 3rd grade.  

Life doesn’t stop when illness strikes.  

Children still go to school and extra curricular activities. As the wife and mother, I was trying to keep the household running smoothly, all while protecting our children and keeping life as “normal” as possible.

I began baking homemade bread and seeking out organic ingredients before they were as readily available as they are now.  Life as we had known it became increasingly complicated.  We continued to pray for healing, and we did all we knew to do to help his body recover.

It has been almost 17 years since that surgery and diagnosis. Steve still has Myasthenia Gravis. We have found our God to be the “I Am” He reminded me He was and is.  

When my husband was too weak to preach, or even walk from his truck to the church, God would fill him with supernatural power when he stood behind the pulpit to preach.  Today, there are times we almost forget he has the disease, except for the daily regimen of medications.  He still must be careful about getting overheated or overly stressed – which we have laughed about since he is a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee (whose summers make you think you are in a sauna).

Those who have walked more physically challenging paths than we have bear witness to the fact that suffering reveals the foundation upon which we have built our lives.  

As Joni Eareckson Tada shared, “When suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our self-centeredness, blasting our soul bare—but then, we can be better bonded to the Savior. Our afflictions have helped make us holy. And we are never more like Christ—never more filled with His joy, peace, and power—than when sin is uprooted from our lives.” 

God is faithful! He is good and He only does good. He is always at work conforming us to the image of His dear Son.  

What are you facing? If you live long enough, either you or someone you love will face a disease or a difficult doctor’s diagnosis. How will you deal with it? I can tell you from personal experience that the Lord is faithful and He is able! Lean in on Him and allow Him to meet your every need.

God’s Word is true: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). His power has been apparent in my husband’s life. His power has been evident in mine, as I have walked this journey alongside him.  

What we have learned of His faithfulness, we would not have known without this suffering.

Do you love Him? Trust Him!  Regardless of what you are facing. He will not leave you nor forsake you. The depth of your experience and knowledge of Him will grow, far exceeding your greatest imagination or expectation!

Donna Gaines



  1. Sandra Graham says:

    I remember this time during Bro. Steve’s illness and what you and your family went thru and how God continued to have his hand on your family! Thank you for being such a Godly influence on me and so many others. I really needed your post today! Since my sweetheart had his stroke our world has turned upside down with added responsibility and role reversals. Thank you for reminding me of Gods faithfulness ! I love you my sister!

  2. Ruby Cotham says:

    Oh how I need this today as my husband has been having many health issues since open heart by pass in Aug, Donna thank you for sharing. Ruby Cotham, Southaven Ms

  3. Ifeoma Samuel says:

    This is a powerful encouragement. When I saw this on Facebook, I knew it was worth stopping over and reading.
    I’m grateful to God for your husband’s recovery.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful encouragement here.?
    God bless you sister.

  4. Loucrecia Hollingsworth says:

    This popped up in my newsfeed this morning & it was exactly what I needed. We’re not dealing with any medical diagnosis, but trying to recover from a layoff. My husband worked for AT&T in Birmingham for almost 15 years & got laid off at the end of December. He found a job in April, but it is a very grueling job. He is now at a crossroads where he can go back to school (because of the layoff) while remaining at this job, try to get back on with AT&T doing a different (also very physically demanding job that would take up 72+ hours a week, 6 days a week), or try to tough out the job that he has & work to move up in the company. Honestly, none feel like really desirable choices & it’s impossible to see what the future looks like down any of these paths. We just wish God would say, “This is the path, walk he in it. Turn neither to the left nor right,” but so far He hasn’t. All I’ve gotten is a trust ME.

    By the way, I remember when this happened to your husband. We live in Cullman County & always enjoyed watching GFB in the mornings while getting ready for church. I even met your husband once at the Fiddlers Convention at Athens! I was a student there at the time & was working a booth where we were selling corn on the cob on a stick. I saw him walk past & stepped out & spoke with him. This was maybe October 2001. I didn’t realize the extent of what y’all went through. Thank you for sharing your testimony about this time in your life.

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