The Thorn In My Flesh

“If you looked at me back then, you’d think, ‘what more could she ever want?’ I was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, traveling the world, on the cover of a calendar, and pursuing a career as a speech pathologist. But my life was glorifying all things shallow.” – Ryan Ray

“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NASB)

“It was supposed to be a routine blood test,” said Ryan Ray. “But when the doctor said I needed to come in right away because my liver enzymes were through the roof, I had no idea what was next. It started a process filled with tests, prayers, waiting, questions, and clinging to Christ. The result was the diagnosis of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), an extremely rare liver disease with no cure. There was no way of knowing if I’d live another year, 10 years, or have a full life.

“My parents did a good job raising my brother and me with Christian values. We attended church regularly but lived too far away to develop real friendships with other kids from church. I had no peers to talk to about following Jesus.

“When I started college my life became more about following what I thought I wanted. Despite my family’s concerns, I entered into a relationship that proved to be unwise. The relationship went from unhealthy to straight up violent and abusive. I was partying quite a bit at this time but always felt the Holy Spirit tapping me on the shoulder and convicting me to do something about the choices I was making. I just wasn’t ready to surrender.

“Dance was always a big part of my life. I’d been on the drill team in high school and the pom squad at TCU. So when a friend asked me if I was interested in trying out for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, I did. I made the team my second time auditioning, cheering for the next two years.

“If you looked at me back then, you’d think, ‘what more could she ever want?’ I was a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, traveling the world, on the cover of a calendar, and pursuing a career as a speech pathologist. But my life was glorifying all things shallow, and my heart was in an impure place. I knew there was something more I needed.

“I was a believer, but I wasn’t enjoying the abundant life the Lord offers. I didn’t know what it truly meant to walk with Christ. It was difficult to work all day with special needs children and then work out and rehearse at the stadium until midnight. Thankfully, God used one of my coworkers to demonstrate what it meant to serve the Lord. I saw how she dated and how she cared for those around her. She showed me what I needed to change in my daily life.

“After cheering and dancing for so long, I was used to receiving recognition based solely on my appearance. The more I learned about God’s standards for purity among men and women, the more I realized I could potentially be a factor in someone’s struggle with lust or vanity. I decided to stop cheering because I felt like it wasn’t what God desired for me.

“Around this time, I also met a girl from Watermark. She had a solid foundation of Scripture and shared it with me often. I felt convicted to learn more about the Bible so that when situations arose, I could look at God’s Word rather than what Ryan had to say. After a series of poor life experiences, I hungered for the wisdom of the Bible.

“To identify my life with Christ, I decided to be baptized. I loved the idea of being buried with Christ and raised in newness of life. My sin no longer defined me, and that was so freeing. My relationships began looking a lot different, and my decisions were so much healthier.

“Learning how to handle things biblically was such a gift, particularly after I found out I had PSC. The day I received the diagnosis I felt profoundly numb. I wondered what it meant for my future. Would I get married and have children? Was it wise to do so? What if I died early? With so many questions, my faith was truly tested. I’m grateful that the Lord showed up in such a big way. I came to see that even this disease was a part of my story that could be used to glorify Him.

“My community of friends really encouraged me. They didn’t pretend to know what it was like to have this condition. They reminded me that the Lord would never leave me or forsake me. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 tell us that God will not let anything go to waste – including this thorn in my flesh.

“Every year I have an MRI to monitor the progression of my disease. It’s an annual reminder of the importance of not wasting time chasing after what is temporary. My relationship with the Lord is solid now, and whatever He has planned for me is far better than what I could have designed for myself. None of us know how long we have here. So I can decide to trust in the plans God has for me and enjoy the peace that comes only from knowing my Savior.”

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