"Chronic illness brought a new kind of strength," says Lauren
With a contagious smile and bubbly personality, Lauren Hack holds fast to her joy despite being diagnosed with spinal arthritis two years ago.
News that she could spend the rest of her life in constant pain due to this auto immune disease would be enough to devastate anyone and 23-year-old Lauren is no exception.
"My heart was so heavy, grieving the loss of my good health and considering the impact this chronic illness would have on my life," Lauren says sadly.
"It has truly been the most difficult thing I have ever walked through and is still an on-going battle."
Although the illness rocked her world, Lauren says she has learned to trust in God like never before.
"I can testify to God's faithfulness through it. It has been deeply humbling and caused my faith in Him to grow stronger, placing my hope in Jesus Christ through such a testing circumstance," she explains.
Lauren first placed her trust and faith in God when she was 12 years old, after she understood what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
She recognized the love of God displayed in her parents and school teachers' lives and desperately wanted the same unshakable hope and joy they seemed to have.
This spurred Lauren on to make the decision to hand her life over to Jesus and obey His teachings, knowing that she could trust God to lead her in the right direction because of His love for her.
"God created us, so surely He knows what's best for us and sees the big picture," she says. "He knows what your life will look like even before you've lived it as explained in Psalm 139.
Lauren adds that when she gave her life to God, "it was simply the unchanging, unconditional, irreplaceable love of Jesus Christ that changed and filled my heart to overflowing".
"I suddenly had a joy I had never experienced, it was a gift from God and I was also full of love for all those around me. My closest friends at the time didn't think I was being 'genuine' because my attitude towards life and others changed so dramatically. I couldn't help it or contain it I was simply changed from the inside out!"
Today Lauren confidently says, "My relationship with Jesus simply defines me", as she finds joy in knowing her sins have been forgiven and that she is "eternally loved and accepted by God, with an eternity in heaven to look forward to".
Although she continues to struggle physically with the pain of her illness, Lauren says she finds strength knowing she lives a life of purpose and God will use her experiences to grow her character and encourage and comfort others going through hard times.
"My life has direction and reason, because I am living for Jesus. My life is no longer about me and achieving my own 'goals', it is about sharing the same hope and joy I have with others," she explains.
"My heart just burns for people to come to know Jesus because He is the closest companion you could ever have and knows everything about each one of us. I know He is with me constantly and guides me by His Holy Spirit."
In a world that is so broken and desperate for love, Lauren says she has found from her own personal experience that "Jesus really is 'The Way, The Truth and The Life'."
"I think people can spend a whole lifetime searching for the love that Jesus gives, and never find it because He is the only way to true life, forgiveness and happiness," she explains.
"When I get up each day and go about my life, it is simply in response to God's love for me, even though it may be hard sometimes. There is nothing more rewarding and comforting than knowing exactly what you are living for and that you are loved, exactly as you are, and nothing will ever change that."
In response to why God would continue to allow her suffering at this time, Lauren points to where the Bible explains that God's strength "is made perfect in our weakness" [2 Corinthians 12:9].
"I am evidence of this verse. I am weak and yet I have seen His strength shine through in my life to other people. I know full well that whatever I achieve or accomplish is by His grace and for His glory, not my own.
"No matter what happens in this life, I know I have everlasting life with Him – free from all suffering – to look forward to."