Two bouts of rheumatic fever, Sjogren's syndrome, and the ravages of cancer and its treatment provide but a glimpse into the painful life of Clara Cox.
Cox, a member of Chatmoss Baptist Church in Martinsville, Va., also suffered from an abusive mother and an abusive spouse.
Her godly grandmother, a loving pastor, and a confident and consistent prayer life, as well as faith in God, buoyed Cox's hope in her sea of despair.
Diagnosed in 1983 with Sjogren's syndrome – a connective tissue disorder – Cox found herself kneeling in the hospital chapel. "I asked the Lord to give me the strength to show others what a wonderful Savior He is," she said.
In 1987, Cox began a battle with cancer – a battle she still wages today, much to the surprise of her doctors. Again, she credits prayers and her faith.
It was a "faith" of a different sort that led Cox to tell her doctor of Jewish descent about biblical Christianity earlier this year. She had enrolled in the FAITH witness training program at her church, a program distributed by Southern Baptists' LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn.
Her audible recitation of memory verses and the FAITH outline while in cancer treatment was at first a source of mockery, said Cox, who recounted some of her sojourn for those attending the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia annual meeting in October in Salem, Va.
"I became known to the hospital staff as the 'FAITH woman'," Cox told the crowd. "I was mocked, laughed at, and made fun of as I took my FAITH materials and Bible with me to my cancer treatments."
Despite the ridicule, Cox determined to try out her FAITH outline on her doctor, even though he repeatedly discouraged her from taking her Bible to chemotherapy treatments and had also refused to pray with her.
"'If you had as much faith in me as you do that Bible, you'd be well by now,'" her doctor said, recalled Cox in a later interview.
"That riled my dander," said Cox, who noted she didn't "have red hair for nothing."
"'Faith, faith, faith – that's all I've heard out of you,'" her doctor said, recounted Cox.
When asked how he planned to get to heaven, the doctor told Cox: "'I save lives every day. Of course I am going to heaven."
"'Wrong!' I told him." Cox explained that salvation from God through the Messiah is not a salvation of works but a salvation of repentance from sins and a belief in the life and work of Jesus Christ as Messiah.
The Jewish doctor apparently pondered that overnight and asked Cox at the next day's treatment session, "'What must I do to be saved?"
"'The easiest way for me to tell you is through my FAITH outline you've been laughing at me about,'" she said. After the outline, Cox tried to lead the doctor in prayer.
"I had barely said two words when my doctor interrupted me with his own prayer," Cox said. "He was confessing his sins and acknowledging that he believed Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God and the promised Messiah."
Cox said she had no doubt her doctor became a "completed Jew," especially when he "came down the hospital hallway singing Jesus Loves Me," she said. He also began praying with Cox as he treated her illness.
"The FAITH program is the easiest way I have found through the years to share the gospel," said Cox.
"There are so many lost people everywhere we go. And we must do everything we can to share Christ with them."
Outliving the expectations of medical specialists, Cox is grateful for every day she awakens. "I thank God for each new day. It represents another chance to share how great our God is," she said.
Cox said one of her doctors told her to "'do the best you can with what you've got,'" she said, recalling the bleak future he was predicting for her.
"The best I've got is the Lord," Cox said. "But it is His best that helps me do my best for Him."