Even When

Good Friday: The day we remember the depths to which our sovereign God stooped to rescue us.

The day when grief has its place in the church.

The day when silence has the last word.

Today I attended a Good Friday service for the first time in several years. The uniqueness of this day in Holy Week was evident in the uniqueness of this service. For one thing, Emily the musician noticed that all songs, except one, remained in a minor key throughout, which set up the appropriate sombre mood. Emily the introvert appreciated the scheduled periods of silence, which allowed the congregation to contemplate the gravity of Jesus’ crucifixion. (I love it when I’m given the space to think in the context of the church.)

This contemplation led me to a question: Would followers of Jesus have been able to worship the Father on the day of Jesus’ death, as they witnessed what seemed to be His defeat?

IMG_6325

During the service, the choir sang the lyrics of a poem found on a cell wall in a Nazi concentration camp:

I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, even when I feel it not.

I believe in God, even when He is silent.

I was fascinated by the use of this poem, composed in the midst of a bleak situation, to represent the sense that the Father had abandoned. A sensation with which I am familiar.

My current overall medical condition is good. I feel like I am in a place where I can manage symptoms that may arise. But a few weeks ago, I didn’t feel like my symptoms were manageable.

I had anywhere from six to eight dislocations of my right shoulder over the span of a week and a half. I never fully recovered from the first dislocation before the next ones occurred, so my muscles weren’t exactly working for me.

At the same time, I had reached near the end of surgery recovery for my hand. I was conflicted; I wanted to rejoice at my progress on one joint and mourn the temporary regression on another joint. I wanted to praise God as my Healer, yet I was simultaneously not feeling healed. There was a disconnect between what I wanted to believe and what I truly felt.

I love that Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ question on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34). According to these passages, Jesus also experienced the disconnect between His understanding of the Father and what He truly felt.

He was obedient to the Father’s will, even when He felt abandoned.

How does the cross enable me to do the same?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

The psalm typically associated with mourning death provides the key to renewed life.

He restores my soul.

If restoring is bringing back to an original state, the stability of my hands has been restored. How does God restore my soul?

By bringing me back to my soul’s original state–as it would be in the Garden of Eden.

He takes me back to the place where guilt and shame have not yet corrupted my soul.

He takes me back to the place where I don’t feel the need to work for my salvation.

He takes me back to the place where pain does not run rampant throughout the world.

Because of the cross, because of Good Friday, my sin has been paid for, and my soul has been restored.

 

I believe in my Healer, even when I don’t feel healed.

An Outrageous Situation

The cool thing about documenting my spiritual journey (as it relates to my health) on the Internet, is that I have proof of God working on my behalf. Whether or not you read this post previously, take a minute to read this older post before reading on, so that you have the full context.

Asking for Help

Now that you have some context, it’s time to conclude my update on last semester.

It was research-paper season. I had three research papers due within three weeks of one another, each with a 10-page or 20-page minimum. (My thesis ended up being 25.) For a normal college student, this is a lot of typing to do within a short timeframe. (Please don’t accuse me of procrastinating. I truly did the best that I could with the circumstances of my physical and mental health.)

About a week before my first paper was due, I picked up something with my dominant hand that ended up being much heavier than I expected. After that, I couldn’t use that hand for a week. An. Entire. Week.

I had three research papers to finish and 0 cooperation from my dominant hand. My poor left hand had to do all the typing for that entire week. Then it ended up dislocating maybe two weeks later. RIP.

At some point in this struggle, we moved up my follow-up appointment with my hand doctor for the week after Thanksgiving, after Paper 1’s deadline and just before Paper 2’s deadline.

I walked into this appointment completely brain-dead from working on papers in every waking moment. I didn’t even rehearse my spiel for my doctor. (I’m trying to remember back to what I actually told my doctor. I know I wasn’t eloquent. There’s a possibility I just lifted my hand and said, “It doesn’t work.”) BUT, because of what was said in my last appointment with this same doctor, my expectation was for my doctor to talk about the cyst in my bone and the removal process of drilling a hole through the bone.

I’m not a medical expert. Don’t assume that I know what I’m talking about. But I think an important detail of this story is that my doctor changed locations, and, thus, medical equipment. As a result, the X-rays I had at this new location are….different (better/more reliable). When my doctor came in with the newest X-rays, he actually had not received my records from his previous location. So he was only looking at my hand as that day’s X-rays presented.

Things that went according to expectation: He mentioned a cyst.

Things that were not according to expectation: The location of the cyst. There was no cyst inside any of my bones. The cyst was in between bones–and I think it moved from lateral to medial side. (“Moved” as in, previous X-rays indicated a cyst inside one bone; recent X-rays indicated that there was no longer a cyst in the same location, but there was a cyst in a new location.)

Things that were not according to expectation, continued: I don’t exhibit any signs of arthritis. !?! Yeah. My limited medical knowledge from A&P told me that osteoarthritis is “wear-and-tear” arthritis, as in irreversible damage. It doesn’t make sense for me to have osteoarthritis in June and not present any signs in November.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s an outrageous situation. These are phrases that I heard two weeks before my November appointment that stuck in my mind.

The setting in which I heard these phrases before my appointment was in one of my Old Testament classes in which we studied the book of Job. Ah, Job. Arguably one of the most difficult books of the Bible to read. Just as I’m not a medical expert, and you shouldn’t assume I know what I’m talking about, I’m not going to pretend that I understand the book of Job. I passed my class and moved on. But, obviously, some lecture points have stayed with me.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job 40:3-5 (ESV)

In the middle of God’s monologue, Job interjects his confession and vows to remain silent. But Job’s interjection does not conclude the Divine Speeches.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Job 40:6-8

God responds to Job by exalting mythical creatures that were known for fighting back. Then Job repents from his last statement–his vow to remain silent.

42 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42: 2-6

When Job “repents,” he then vows to question God. After this point, the story of Job is that he lives happily ever after, due to God’s restoration and blessings.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil[b]that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money[c] and a ring of gold.

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.

Job 42:10-17

What an interesting story. Job vows not to question God for his suffering and then gets chastised for his vow. So then Job vows to question God and is consequently rewarded.

Here are some notes that I took before my appointment:

“What do we do when we don’t understand what God is doing? Stand up. Keep pushing.

The book of Job deliberately sets up an outrageous situation in which the redemptive purpose is nearly impossible to see.

The only answer that is unacceptable is no answer at all. Silence is the wrong move.”

As I was sitting in heavy traffic coming back from Thanksgiving break, I had time to think. So I did. I thought about my inability to write a few weeks before. I thought about how much more difficult even typing would be, now that my non-dominant hand had also dislocated. I thought about this blog and how much I’ve grown in my own faith because of my writing. I thought about my friend who used this blog to minister to a disabled refugee when she herself could not relate. I thought about my genuine desire to glorify God through my writing.

I thought about it, and it didn’t make sense. It was an outrageous situation. The God whom I wanted to glorify was preventing me from doing so in the way I desired. It was outrageous, and I told God. I let Him know how frustrated I was. I demanded that He not take away my ability to write, when I genuinely wanted to glorify Him through it. Sitting in standstill traffic, I yelled. I let out the anger that I had not allowed myself to feel against God. I prayed the prayer I hadn’t allowed myself to pray.

Two days later, I found out that I don’t have arthritis. !?! And the issue that I was having was fixable. !?! And that didn’t involve drilling a hole through bone. !?! And that recovery would be a breeze after what I went through with shoulder surgery. !?!

I am now a month and a half out from said surgery. My doctor removed the cyst from between the bones–my literal thorn in the flesh. My hand bones no longer grind against one another with every move I make. I am one or two physical therapy appointments from getting discharged. (I did PT for 5 months after shoulder surgery.) As evidenced by this post, I am able to write again. This past week, I took almost all of my class notes by hand, which hasn’t happened since my freshman year. I also attempted to play piano today. I’ve experienced healing. It is well with my soul.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:13-14

 

Season of Advent

This will be my first blog post to write via voice text. If you read my last post the know part of the reason why. Although I’ve been expected to do much of it this semester, writing has been difficult.

In my last post I described the pain of a dislocation of my right shoulder. That happened a few more times this semester, including right before finals. (That was fun.) I also had an entire week this semester in which I couldn’t use my dominant hand at all; even moving my fingers caused excruciating pain. Then a week or two later, my other hand dislocated for the first time. Even more fun.

Thankfully that’s most of my injuries this semester. Except my nondominant hand just dislocated again. Hence the voice texting.

I’d be lying if I said this was easy. And I think I lied to myself most of the semester.

That is, until I studied the book of Job. That’s a different story for a different post. This post is a precursor to that post.

This post has the goal of describing the end of my semester, without giving away the end result. Sometimes we don’t know the end result. And in these moments, we are free to encounter God like never before.

On my last Sunday in Birmingham, my church examined the holistic Christmas story. In my pastor’s sermon, we looked at the story of Simeon.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:25-32

Simeon didn’t know the end result. But he had faith in the end result.

A passage from the book of Psalms reminds me of Simeon.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:7-14

 

I can relate to part of this psalm too.

Over the past three years, writing has become increasingly difficult for me. What we thought was tendinitis in my right hand led me to back off on journaling in my quiet times. The increasing demands of school required even more adjustments. Shoulder injuries made typing even more difficult. But I was getting by, often typing only with my left hand.

Then it too dislocated.

That changed things. I was out of options. I was out of motivation to seek more options.

Journaling in my quiet times was when I felt closest to God. I felt the need to stop for physical pain. I’ve felt renewed closeness to God through blogging, which requires typing. (Still using voice texting, but I’m having to edit a lot. Technology- gotta love it.) With injuries to most upper-body joints, I felt like this too would be taken from me.

There’s obvious good news in that I am still able to, somehow, complete a blog post. There’s even more good news to be shared in my next post. That good news doesn’t fit this post.

Also on my last Sunday in Birmingham, my college ministry held an advent service. The point of the service was to identify areas in our lives that we are waiting on the Lord to heal. This was not a Christmas service; we were not yet celebrating the coming of Christ. Instead, we recognized the tension between “already” and “not yet.”

Advent is the freedom to mourn the current situation. Sometimes we need to mourn the effects of sin before celebrating Christ’s victory over it. Sometimes we need to recognize that we are the bad news before celebrating the good news. We see throughout Scripture that there is a time for this mourning, this season. (i.e. Ecclesiastes 3)

I’m not yet sharing my medical good news because it was unexpected. Before it came, I was in this season of mourning and waiting for good news to come. And maybe someone reading this is too. Maybe someone needs to hear the faithfulness of God in an unresolved story.

This song of advent by Hillsong has been playing on repeat for the past several days.

“I can see the promise
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child”

Until next time, consider, with me, the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises, and believe that we will “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lordbe strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14)

Backwards Living

 

“Why are you smiling?”

“Because I know something you don’t know.”

“And what is that?”

“I am not left-handed.”

High-quality scene from The Princess Bride. Ambidextrous sword-fighting is pretty impressive. I wish that I could switch from one hand to the other in any given task as smoothly as Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black.

What a hectic start to the semester. I feel like these first four weeks have been non-stop busyness.

For one, my course load is a little more challenging this semester. I’m taking more upper level classes, and I’m trying to learn a new language–Hebrew.

Which is a challenge in itself. As long as I’ve been reading, I’ve read from left to right. Now I’m having to reverse everything I’ve ever known by reading right to left. I think I’m used to it now, but at first, it felt so foreign to me. Now it’s become almost familiar.

Foreign to familiar. What do ambidextrous sword-fighting and learning Hebrew have in common?

They explain how I’m having to adjust to my latest injury.

Here’s my shortest and most boring injury story yet: My right shoulder (the one I didn’t have surgery on) dislocated in my sleep about three weeks ago.

The end. End of story. Not continuing that train of thought.

I can’t afford to finish that thought. I don’t want to deny what happened, but right now I can’t answer the question “What does this mean?”

I can somewhat answer the question “What now?”

Now I’m switching up some of my daily routine to be the exact opposite of what I’ve done over the past year. For example, I had to relearn how to put in my contacts after shoulder surgery. (Don’t judge- I flinch so much when anything comes towards my eye that I have to grab my eyelid to put in my contacts.) After surgery I began reaching with my right arm to open both eyelids. Now I’m using my left arm for both eyelids. For the past year I’ve been opening doors with my right arm. Now I’m opening them with my left. For the past year I’ve been carrying a bag on my right shoulder on the way to class. In my last post I mentioned that I was able to carry a backpack. That was the first week of class. Not the same anymore. Now I’m carrying a bag on my left shoulder.

I’m so glad that I chose to have surgery on my left shoulder: Now I have a “good side.” At least my arthritic hand is on the same side as my now “bad” shoulder.

So basically, every day is a learning experience. No two days are the same. I’m learning how to adjust to what life (more specifically my body) throws at me.

Adjustment has also been necessary in my spiritual/emotional response to this new injury. My normal response would be worry. I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t worried. But right now I can’t afford to go where the “what-ifs” would take me.

So I’m having to choose a response that feels so backwards to me.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34

The few days after this dislocation allowed me to feel closer to the Lord than I had in a while. Literally everything I did those few days was preceded by the prayer, “Okay God–what are we doing next?” Dependence on the Lord is a beautiful consequence of not knowing the next step to take.

I have a choice: I can let my brain go to the “what-ifs,” or I can ask God, “What now?” If I’m following Jesus’ logic, going with the “what-ifs” doesn’t benefit tomorrow at all; it only detracts from what I could be discussing with God now.

I appreciate your prayers, as always. My prayer request now is that I will be faithful to seek the Lord for each and every step of this journey placed before me–not worrying about tomorrow but seeking Him first.

 

Daily New Mercies

This morning, I started my day by doing the Charleston to swing music with a group of old ladies. It was fantastic.

Especially after the long process that it took to get there. I wish I was cool enough to have friends that just so happen to be elderly and just so happen to invite me to their dance party. But this is actually for a class. One drawback to my school is the physical activity requirement that I kinda need to graduate. And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you know how much of a challenge physical activity is for me.

Lord bless the disability services at my school. I am extremely grateful for their willingness to provide me with the opportunity to take a PE class with people who are not healthy 20 year-olds, like most people assume I am. I’m very excited for the opportunity to take a class at a facility that specializes in physical activity for those with disabilities.

I haven’t talked much on this blog about my experience with various disability services in the past year. I have actually registered with three different disability services in the past year. But this is my first school year to begin the year with my accommodations in place. You would think it would make the process easier.

It’s not.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been more overwhelmed this semester by my meetings with professors, which isn’t normally the case. Not because they don’t care. They certainly do. But this time I had to repeat the phrase “I can’t” more than usual (mostly related to my PE class). I’m not gonna lie–it got very discouraging. Most of the time, I just have to get over it if people don’t understand what I’m going through. This is not the case when academic credits and graduation are on the line.

On Wednesday I went to the library. I went to the library to get my mind off of the “I can’t”s that echoed in my mind. As I was walking back from the library, the Lord pointed out an “I can”: I was wearing a normal backpack. The one that I couldn’t use all last year, due to my shoulder instability. I was able to exhale and felt an overwhelming sensation of peace. You know, one that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). For the rest of my walk, I talked to God about my gratitude over my overall physical improvement. I praised Him for my normal backpack.

The small things in life are big enough reasons to praise Him.

This semester I’m taking a class on the Psalms. It’s already been as incredible as I’d hoped. I haven’t yet written my assignment on one of our textbooks (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary by Walter Brueggemann), but I did take pictures of multiple passages and send them to friends. (So that counts, right?) Here’s my favorite quote from what I’ve read so far: Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair. Where there has only been darkness, there is light.” Brueggemann describes this phenomenon as the “surprise of the gospel.”

After reading this, I was reminded of how good the good news is. I am nothing but bad news; Jesus is the complete opposite. In the despair and hopelessness of my sinful nature, Jesus grants me with eternal life through His own righteousness. I do nothing to deserve His love, and yet He gives abundantly more than I could ever fathom.

Even on my worst day, the good news of the gospel is still good.

Today has not been perfect. In fact, it’s possible that I strained my bicep again on my dominant arm. But through my disappointments and disability and disorientation, I can still be “surprised” today by the hope that the gospel brings to my life. The Lord’s daily new mercies (Lamentations 3:23) can be a pleasant surprise when everything seems to be going wrong.

May I never lose the wonder of His mercy.

Asking for Help

Pros and Cons of Summer 2017

Pros: I think I’m overall doing really well! The effectiveness of the shoulder surgery I had is heavily dependent on physical therapy. Although it was torture all last semester, I’m finally at a place where I can use my left arm to function like a[n almost] normal human being! But then I’ve also adjusted my normal routine; why blow-dry or straighten your hair when surgery made it curlier anyways? Why use arms to open doors when you can discreetly kick open doors and fake that you opened them like a normal person? (Okay I only do that occasionally.)

And now that it’s been two months since I was discharged from PT, I’ve established a regular weekly workout routine to maintain strength. Good news- I can successfully lift a 1-pound dumbbell! You may think it’s pathetic, but honestly I’m thrilled! I have no doubt that my shoulder is in place, and if it dislocates in the next decade, I will be very surprised.

I’m happy to be where I am. I didn’t think that would be the case. The peace of mind I now have, from knowing that my shoulder is securely in place, makes the past seven months worth it.

But the fun never stops!

Con: I have another surgery to decide on. LOL.

This time it’s my hand. If you’ve kept up with me for the past year and a half: Remember that dislocation I had last spring? I’m definitely remembering it now.

Well that dislocation may have been the cause of some pretty serious damage. I now have a cyst in one of my hand bones, which is probably off-setting the placement of my other hand bones. The cyst would have to be surgically removed from the bone, and it doesn’t sound easy. Since my bones are rubbing together, I now have arthritis.

L.O.L.

Not exactly what I was expecting to hear. (I found this out the SAME DAY that I got released from my shoulder surgeon. Kind of an emotional day.) But at this point, I’m not surprised that something else went wrong requiring another major surgery.

Part of me is asking, “How long, O Lord?”

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2 (ESV)

I love the Psalms for including such honest questions like “How long do I have to put up with this, God?” But until recently, I thought this question was only located in the Psalms.

It turns out that Jesus asked the same question:

17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

Mark 9:17-19 (ESV)

I love my sarcastic Savior. I love that He expressed His frustration over the faithlessness of people around Him. Our God is Holy and yet relatable. I love that.

20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Mark 9:20-22

I love my caring Savior. He took the time to understand a hurting family’s story. He didn’t just see a need; He saw His wonderfully-made creation, for whom He had planned out all of their days before they came to be (Psalm 139). I love that too.

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:23-24

I love my powerful Savior. I love that, in the remainder of this passage in Mark, Jesus is able to heal the boy like only He could. But these two verses have dominated my focus for a while now: the honest prayer of a hurting father–“Help my unbelief!”

This plea for help immediately follows declaration of God’s abilities. I feel like this father claimed he believed in Jesus’ ability for his own sake; it seems like he needed help actually believing it. And he admitted it to Jesus!

I love that I can admit my failures to the One whom I fail.

For several months now, I’ve been learning to ask people for help. (It doesn’t come naturally.) I finally realized the significance of asking God for help, since He is the source of my only hope.

On the day I found out about inevitable tough times ahead with my hand, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this passage in Mark, specifically the father’s prayer, “Help my unbelief!” I began to think about characteristics of God that I did not, at that moment, believe to be true. I had trouble admitting that God is good, faithful, caring, sovereign, etc.

So I decided to ask for help.

God, You are in control of this situation. Help my unbelief.

God, You are working this out for my good. Help my unbelief.

God, You are always good. Help my unbelief.

God, You are faithful to strengthen me. Help my unbelief.

God, You will not abandon me. Help my unbelief.

I so desperately needed to remind myself of God’s reliable character, and it was so freeing to admit my struggle in believing.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me or for you. But I know that God is with us to walk with us even through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). God, help our unbelief.

New Song in my Mouth

What a year. Somehow I completed my junior year of college, on top of a debilitating surgery/recovery process. I don’t think I’ve gotten over the fact that I actually survived.

So surgery…yeah…not something I can talk about easily. It’s been the most humbling experience of my life. I’m pretty sure middle school was the last time I had to ask for rides as often as I did this semester. I thought I had mastered the art of doing laundry during my freshman year; I didn’t think I’d have to ask for help with laundry anymore. Most notably, I didn’t think I would have to go to class on the same days that I needed [prescribed] pain medication, in order to get me through the torture of range-of-motion exercises at PT. But that became the norm–twice a week, every week of the semester. So that was fun.

In addition to the physical changes of this year, the academic/social changes of this year were [almost] equally challenging. I went from spending most of my time practicing or thinking about practicing or complaining about practicing in the music building basically all my waking hours, to…I don’t even know. I love being a religion major, but I still don’t have an answer when people ask what I do. Not to say it’s easier; it’s not. Both a pro and con of being a religion major–not having a specific curriculum required of every religion major. Pro: I get to graduate on time. Con: I don’t see the same people in the same building during all my waking hours. Huge change from the last two years.

Confession: I cried more this semester over my inability to play flute than I did over my pain levels. Grief over my loss of performing ability really kicked in this semester, now that I’m not constantly anxious about joints potentially going out of place. This grief manifested itself when my schedule allowed me more free time than I had as a music major, when I listened to music that I was once able to play, and when I heard my friends successfully perform to the best of their ability.

The grief on top of the constant excruciating pain felt like a “pit of destruction.” But as an answered prayer, “He put a new song in my mouth.”

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

Part of this new song is declaring God’s goodness in challenging circumstances. Here’s how He revealed His goodness to me this semester:

  • Community

During one very talented friend’s senior recital, I thought about the “what-ifs” of my music career. The nostalgia over positive performing experiences became overwhelming. I missed the days when conductors would tell the entire ensemble to play at a softer volume so that my solo could be heard. I missed being heard.

During that same recital, I also thought about the opportunities I’ve had over the past year to hear–to hear what is going on in other people’s lives, to hear from God’s Word–more so than I had as a music major.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.

Psalm 40:6a

One of the greatest gifts God bestowed upon me this semester was an open ear. I can’t take credit for the drastic increase in desire to listen to others this semester. I believe God gave me this increased desire to be a coping mechanism for everything I went through this semester. It’s comforting to know that others don’t completely have their lives together, which creates common ground for us to collectively recognize our need for a Savior. To quote a friend who teaches me what community looks like long-distance: “It’s depending on those in a gospel-centered community that points us to our utmost need for a relationship with Christ.”

God has been good to me by providing people to love with His love and providing people who reciprocated His love.

  • The ability to finish the semester strong–literally

Like I already said, it seems so surreal that I actually finished the semester at all. In my own power, I would not have been able to finish. Although I’m not prepared to begin bench-pressing 250 (or even 2.5 lbs), I’ve gained a lot of strength back over the past five months–considering the fact that I had 0 strength when I began this semester.

I’ve come a long way physically, and I’ve improved academically as well. Within my first four weeks into the semester, I had three papers due. (Shorter papers, but still. I had one hand with which to type and one brain trying to process both words and pain medication.) The goodness of God was present in my schedule for this semester; I had many assignments due at the beginning of the semester, so I was able to focus more on recovery for the remainder of the semester.

  • Affirmation that I’m where I need to be

Following the academic transition to a religion major, I had no idea what the rest of my college career would look like. People who knew the extent of the difficulties surrounding surgery and recovery occasionally asked me if I ever considered transferring and moving back home. I honestly didn’t want to. But the suggestion did make practical sense. However, one of the greatest aspects of my small, Christian school is the ability to be known and cared for by the faculty. Two weeks ago, I was awarded a scholarship based on the verse Luke 2:52 (“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man”). This award recognized the hard work that the Lord enabled me to apply to find balance in my life, on top of overwhelming health concerns. This experience gave me the peace that surpasses understanding, knowing that I’m exactly where God has placed me: When I’ve felt like many do not understand the difficulty of finding balance with chronic health problems, the faculty of my school demonstrated to me that they understand and care. Wow, God is good to provide financial support and emotional support, resulting from the abilities He also gave me.

May the act of singing this new song lead me to honestly confess,

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

Psalm 40:9-10

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

Psalm 40:16-17

This new song in my mouth is the antithesis of my previous self-absorbed song. By singing this new song, I can expose my human limitations and give praise to my limitless God.