The Job of Surviving

And five months after I redesign my blog, I’m back!

I would say that I took a break, but in reality, I took up too many responsibilities. Practically all of them related to my degree. This past semester, being a full-time student meant taking five classes, on top of a 300-hour internship that required 20 hours per week, including spring break. On top of that, I continued my part-time job of ~10 hours per week, so that I can have a place to live. Not being homeless while I study social work is a good thing. But having all of these responsibilities complicated my life 1000%.

On top of ALL of that, my body continued to fall apart, especially at the beginning of the semester–the PERFECT time to get behind on all responsibilities. I had multiple shoulder dislocations that kept me bed-bound, when I had many other things to do. Throughout the remainder of the semester, I regularly dealt with my body shutting down from shoulder pain, whether through my inability to sit upright or nausea from the intensity of the pain.

So I decided to do something to prevent being dysfunctional when I need to be high-functioning: I got an arthrogram/MRI and saw two doctors to get their opinions, and I went with a new doctor for orthopedic surgery #3.

Since I am familiar with the process of recovery, I think the biggest shock this time around has been the gradual change of pace to reach this point. I went from working to the point of exhaustion every day AND THEN either studying how to solve people’s problems or actually solving people’s problems, to being disabled by surgery. I went from offering help to needing help.

This life has a lot slower pace. The alarms I set now are reminders to take medicine or do PT. Most of my time over the past two weeks has been occupied with pain management and side effect management of medication. Although it doesn’t sound as intense as my schedule before surgery, I feel as if I am working equally as hard as before. The difference is that my work now seems self-centered and extremely time-consuming. It’s difficult to imagine the eternal significance of this period of life.

During the time that my shoulder was beginning to get worse (before surgery), I “attended” a virtual conference for believers with chronic illness. One speaker taught on the following verse, with applications for those struggling to balance chronic illness and living for the LORD.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

Right now, it feels like my daily labor of rehab is in vain. And, in all honesty, one day, in this lifetime, it may be; due to my hypermobility, there is a higher likelihood that this surgery could eventually fail. But for right now, I’m called to be steadfast. Immovable. Always abounding in the work of the Lord, even when I’m taking time off from my job[s].

“Any activity, no matter how small, that fills your day that you do with a reliance on God and for the glory of God is the work of the Lord.” -Esther Smith

I also recently downloaded the audiobook Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Her chapter on the necessity yet potential spirituality of brushing teeth spoke to where I am currently.

“So I will fight against my body’s fallenness. I will care for it as best I can, knowing that my body is sacred and that caring for it, and the other bodies around me, is a holy act. I’ll hold onto the truth that my body, in all its brokenness, is beloved, and that one day, it will be like the resurrected body of Christ–glorious.”

Tish Harrison Warren

I find Warren’s take on Romans 12:1 (“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”) to be beautiful and motivating to work towards God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will for me for each day (Romans 12:2).

During this season of slow, monotonous responsibilities to take care of my body, I will try my best to seize opportunities to worship the Creator of all things good–even my broken body.

Redemption

“O God, our help in ages past, / Our hope for years to come, / Our shelter from the stormy blast, / And our eternal home!”

It’s been a year.

I started off the year with amnesia. (One of the medications I was given before my hand surgery had the side effect of forward amnesia for ~24 hours. I remember being in the recovery room, then about 15 minutes when I was at home. The next day, I didn’t remember anything else that had happened. Funny way to start out the year.)

Then my next challenge was eating soup with my non-dominant hand. I had to become somewhat ambidextrous quickly.

Like 2017, I spent the first few months of 2018 in rehab, trying to gain back the functioning of one of my joints. However, this recovery was infinitely less difficult than the previous year. Things starting looking up as I finished out my undergrad experience.

Then I got sick. And a few months later, I realized that the issue was here to stay. Thank you, POTS. At the end of 2018, I still feel inadequate in managing these new symptoms of my autonomic nervous system. (It’s hard to control the functions that your body is supposed to perform naturally.)

2019 will not be without its challenges. I’ve seen my shoulder surgeon again to discuss operating on my other shoulder. TBD whether or not this occurs in 2019. And I’m sure I’ll develop new symptoms, as I have each year for the past few years.

But I am truly looking forward to this new year. Here’s why.

As I begin my second semester in my Master of Social Work program, I’ll begin an internship that will continue at this site until I graduate. I can’t wait to start working with the Alabama Head Injury Foundation!

This organization provides services to traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients and acquired brain injury (ABI) patients throughout the state. From AHIF’s website:

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  TBI is caused by a blow or jolt to the
head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the
brain. A rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head, which can force the
brain to move back and forth inside the skull, can also cause TBI. The stress from these rapid movements pull apart nerve fibers and cause damage to the brain tissue.

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).  ABI is an injury to the brain that has
occurred after birth and is not hereditary, congenital or degenerative. ABI
takes place at the cellular level within the brain; most symptoms of ABIs are
very similar to those of TBIs.

The people I’ll have the privilege of working with have experienced injuries that have altered not only their daily routines but also the courses of their lives. They have most likely experienced grief over the loss of particular abilities and the normalcy of their lives before obtaining injuries. They likely become frustrated each time they desire to perform a task that their bodies prohibit them from performing. They are likely seeking hope in situations that probably feel hopeless.

In addition to getting to know these inspiring men, women, and children, I am excited to work with these patients because of my ability to empathize with parts of their situations. As I learn how to support these individuals, I believe that God will be redeeming my own story.

In my first semester in this grad program, the LORD taught me, through my professors and mentors, that I don’t have to share my own story in order for the LORD to redeem it. Part of the redemption of my story is the absorption of my own story into God’s overarching story of redemption of His people; elements of my own story (i.e. being spiritually disabled, grace enabled) can point to the ultimate hope we have for ultimate redemption, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I can imagine no greater privilege than for my story to be used in this way.

I recently listened to the English translation of an Advent sermon Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on Luke 21. In verses 27 and 28, Jesus proclaims, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Bonhoeffer describes the waiting believers experience until Jesus’ return:

Think of a hospital where a patient lies, suffering from an incurable disease, in agony with indescribable pain, dying slowly and slowly longing for the peace of death to end this plague. And now one day, the doctor comes to the patient and says with confidence, “Today you will be released. Your terminal illness will be healed. Lift up your head, and be delivered from your pain.”

Even if my redemption doesn’t come with complete physical healing in this lifetime, my redemption is coming with Christ, as He enters our realm once more to set an end to death and mourning and crying and pain.

In this coming season, I can’t wait to watch God work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

 

Post-Grad POTS

A week before I graduated (so right before finals), I got a sinus infection. Not unusual for me during finals week. Also the pollen concentration in Birmingham was ridiculously high. So I went to urgent care, got meds, and walked across the stage to receive a participation award that I paid thousands of dollars for. Moving on.

For a graduation trip, I went with my parents to Savannah. Lovely trip. However, the pollen concentration of Birmingham shifted to Savannah while we were there. So I got a sinus infection. Again. Because I had only been off meds for 12 days, I waited to start another round of antibiotics. In the waiting period, it developed into bronchitis. Which forced me to go to urgent care on Memorial Day, because I was supposed to start my job the next day.

The plan was to get meds, get home, and get ready to commute to Birmingham the next day for work. That didn’t exactly happen. When my heart rate and blood pressure were taken, the nurse expressed concern. Sitting down, my heart rate was 116, and my blood pressure was 88/58. I was impressed by how thorough the doctor was at urgent care…on Memorial Day. She concluded that I was dehydrated (hence the high HR and crazy low BP). We tried to do IV fluids, but I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t get a vein. So she told me that I needed to hydrate like crazy or go to the ER. I chose to hydrate like crazy. With some added concern about my BP, especially.

Fast forward a week. The week that I was actually supposed to start my job, since I was no longer contagious. The night before my commute, I didn’t sleep. Not that I couldn’t get to sleep for a while. I didn’t sleep. At all. I still went to work. (Because I’m a dedicated worker, @ any potential employer who might find this someday.) I tried to take a nap after work. I couldn’t. I can’t remember exactly how long I was awake, but it was somewhere between 35 and 39 hours.

That wasn’t okay with me. So I saw my general practitioner for anxiety meds a few days later. I told him about the high heart rate I had the week before, and he said he had noticed in the past that my heart rate is generally high. He started me on an SSRI to manage insomnia and see if it would lower my heart rate.

At the advice of my wonderful roommate Katie, I started keeping track of my heart rate. My average heart rate for the remainder of June was 98; it rarely went below 90. Here’s another example: One day in July, I cleaned my room and got my heart rate up to 117. So I sat on my bed for 15 minutes. Which then increased my heart rate to 134. 🤷🏼‍♀️

So that’s what I’ve been dealing with lately, in addition to the normal dislocations. I waited until July to get a referral for a specialist here in Birmingham. Thankfully Katie has a fantastic doctor who treats her dysautonomia aka dysfunctioning of the autonomic nervous system. “The Autonomic Nervous System controls the “automatic” functions of the body that we do not consciously think about, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, dilation and constriction of the pupils of the eye, kidney function, and temperature control. People living with various forms of dysautonomia have trouble regulating these systems, which can result in lightheadedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, malnutrition, and in severe cases, death” (from Dysautonomia International). I had my appointment with this doctor this week.

Appointment summary: I got on a treadmill for the first time since 2011 (since I’ve had plantar fasciitis in both feet and was instructed in 2016 not to run, due to the risk for joint injury). That was real fun. I survived, but my heart rate got up to 182 by the third of four levels. I’ve been recovering ever since. Also this sign was hanging above my head after I stumbled back to a room and collapsed on a table. Definitely was walking humbly.

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Results summary: I have dysautonomia and, more specifically, POTS–Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. *copied and pasted to ensure proper spelling* Basically my heart rate gets too high when I stand up, contributing to even more fatigue than I experience due to muscular fatigue. POTS also includes the symptoms I’ve dealt with this summer: low BP, insomnia, anxiety-like responses, etc.

Treatment plan: No more new medication. 🙌🏻 Instead, we’re trying to increase the blood content in my body, so that my heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Basically, here’s my treatment plan:

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If you need me, I’ll either be chugging water or salt. But really though–I’m supposed to get twice the recommended daily amount of sodium intake for a normal person. 5. Grams. Of. Salt. Per. Day.

Also, I can’t have caffeine, which increases heart rate. Pray for me, considering I start grad school in two weeks.

There are also many factors considering body position, in order to simplify the pathway of blood flow. So many that it’s actually been looming constantly in the back of my mind for the past week.

And that’s felt more draining than actually having POTS. (With an “S”.) There is always something I need to be doing to keep my symptoms under control. On top of what I already knew about my joints: I have to strengthen the muscles around each joint in order to possibly avoid dislocations. Or they could happen even if I do strengthen those muscles. Honestly, this week I’ve felt like all of these treatment/prevention instructions I’ve been given are pointless and require more energy than I possess.

I’m still processing everything. I’m trying to figure out what this new diagnosis changes for my life today, my life when school starts, and my life in the field of social work.

I talked to some of you towards the beginning of these symptoms about my frustration over not being able to slow down my heart or fall asleep. These are things that you can’t succeed at if you “try.” My problem is that I want my efforts to be successful.

I also feel somewhat guilty for my mind being overtaken with this new protocol. At one point in my life, I had a similar experience of thoughts constantly looming in the back of my mind. It was when I felt bound by the law; I felt like I always needed to be doing something to please God. In a sense, I feel guilty because I’m not doing as much for the Kingdom as I am to keep myself alive.

I ask that you, brothers and sisters in Christ, pray that I would be grounded in the truth of the gospel, that I would surrender my desire for control over my physical limitations, and that I would (in the words of my friend Misty praying over me) be able to enjoy God’s presence by simply resting.

I’ll end on a more redemptive note.

About the same time we started wondering if I had POTS, I started attending a church that takes communion each Sunday. After a particularly rough week, I heard the pastor describe believers’ need to literally taste the goodness of the gospel. The Holy Spirit guided this thought progression:

By partaking of the LORD’s supper, my body consumes Jesus’ blood. By consuming Jesus’ blood, I increase my blood content. By increasing my blood content, my heart can rest. By resting in the work that Jesus did on the cross, by His wounds, I am healed.

Also, here’s my new favorite Psalm:

In vain you get up early and stay up late,

working hard to have enough food—

yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves.

Psalm 127:2 (HCSB)

My Samford Scars

Most people I know had to begin their college experience with the repetitive act of sharing a fun fact about themselves. I’ll start this post the same way: When I applied to Samford, my selected major was Music Composition. That changed by the time interviews came along for both my scholarship program and the Division of Music. By that point, it was Music Education, which changed a year later to Music and Worship. I auditioned on both flute and piano because I wasn’t sure which instrument I wanted to be my primary instrument. In my two years as a music major, I ended up with a small taste of each of these academic areas.

In the two years I had in the music department, I was able to do everything I had hoped to do over the course of four years. While I had hoped to spend more time in these areas, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).

What the Lord orchestrated after those two years was absolutely necessary: My time as a music major was a time of finding my identity in my abilities. It was completely necessary for the God who “gives and takes away” (Job 1:21) to exercise His sovereignty over my life by removing my ability to rely on my abilities as the source of my identity.

While I was bitter for a long time, I’m not anymore. Recently I heard a song that reinforced in a particularly relevant way that my identity lies in how God views me:

“I’m not living for applause. / I’m already so adored. / It’s all HIS stage. / He knows my name.”

“He Knows My Name” — Francesca Battistelli

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Moving onto the next two-year chunk of my academic career.

I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life processing everything I’ve been exposed to through the Religion Department. I’m so thankful for the resources I’ve been given to help me understand others’ religious orientations and to grow in my understanding of my own faith. Resources I am particularly grateful for include a ten-volume set of biblical commentaries and an online biblical language software program: My nerdy heart is rejoicing.

The award that coincided with the gift of commentaries is by far the most meaningful award I have ever received. As a former professor gave an introduction to this award, he shared that one particular research paper I wrote for his class taught him a lot. It was my paper on the theology of disability.

One specific experience at Samford, which I can still visualize, prompted me to direct my research in this area. This one particular instance of a regular occurrence for Samford students altered the direction of my future career. I simply approached the doors of the University Center.

What made this experience so unique was my inability to open the heavy doors. This event occurred in the spring semester of 2017, which was the period when I spent the entire semester recovering from shoulder surgery. At this point, I still had not gained back enough strength to use that arm to support any weight. About a week leading up to this event, I had injured my other arm….doing laundry. After a partial dislocation, the arm that was supposed to be my “good arm” was conspicuously swollen all the way down my bicep, which–I came to understand–is an essential muscle to doing basically everything. Especially opening doors.

As I approached these heavy doors without a functioning arm, I stopped and just stood there, hoping someone would come out the same door and hold it open for me. No one did. I felt completely helpless. I felt inferior to those who didn’t have to think twice about walking through a door. I felt like I didn’t fit the mold of normal-functioning college students that my university expected me to fit–and I didn’t.

My experience of attempting to function at a less-than-optimal level allowed me to empathize with those who live with more long-term disabilities. My experience of encountering doors that were too heavy to open on my own led me to find open doors elsewhere–one of which, I believe, leads to disability advocacy. I would not have discovered my passion for disability advocacy had I not felt feelings of hopelessness at the weight of the closed and heavy door at Samford.

“Anybody who thinks that closed doors disprove the efficacy of prayer just has not thought about prayer very deeply. Prayer is not an incantation. It is talk with a Person–a very wise Person.” -John Ortberg

This literal closed door and the figuratively closed doors I’ve encountered in my time at Samford has forced me to rely on the One who cares enough for me to open doors and invite me to meet with Him (Revelation 3:20).

I’m leaving Samford a different person than when I first arrived. I’m leaving with scars I didn’t have before. My Samford scars.

I’m leaving with the knowledge that circumstances I once considered random happenstance (i.e. scoliosis + hand pain + foot pain) are, in fact, connected. I’m leaving wth the knowledge that my connective tissue is suspended by a faulty collagen matrix. I’m leaving with the knowledge that this collagen matrix is coded for, like every other protein, in my DNA–the formation of which began my very existence. I’m leaving with the knowledge that no injury I have endured or will endure is by accident. I’m leaving with the knowledge that my Creator knew the extent to which I would and will suffer.

And sometimes this knowledge has been difficult to process. Ecclesiastes 1:18 says, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Increase in knowledge has intensified my need to draw near to the Lord in my confusion. As I mentioned before, I plan on processing what I’ve learned over the past four years for the rest of my life.

I’m utterly and sincerely grateful for my time at Samford, which unexpectedly grew my appreciation for life outside of Samford. I’m grateful for my time spent in “The Bubble,” which made me passionate to form relationships with those outside “The Bubble”–those who don’t look like me, come from a different socioeconomic background than me, and did not have the same educational experience as me. My privilege of spending four years studying in “The Bubble” opened the door for me to work at a local nonprofit that provides resources for adults seeking their GED to improve their chances of obtaining steady jobs. The privilege that I have encountered and benefited from during my time at Samford has made me determined to both serve and build relationships with those who were not offered this same privilege.

During Commencement, I choose not to worship the institution that God used to make me who I am today. Instead, I choose to glorify my gracious God who has worked through selfless people of this university, and the surrounding community, to instruct, guide, and walk beside me over the past four years.

“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say,
‘Never once did we ever walk alone.’
Carried by Your constant grace,
Held within Your perfect peace,
Never once, no, we never walk alone.”

“Never Once” — Matt Redman

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📷: Kyle Thompson Photography

My Not-Samford Story

With graduation approaching, I’m frequently asked what my future plans are. Not everything is completely worked out yet, but this post is an attempt to explain at least one decision I’ve arrived at.

Especially now that we’re in the second half of my last semester, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in my time at Samford. To be honest, my transcript actually makes me laugh; the word “eclectic” comes to mind. Although my transcript demonstrates the broad scope of instruction I have received, it does not represent all that I have learned in the past four years.

Things I Have Learned That Are Not on my Transcript

  1. How to be ambidextrous. I’ve learned how to adapt–in some occasions, seamlessly–to physical challenges that arise unexpectedly. Before coming to Samford, I had only dealt with chronic pain in one joint. By the end of today, I will have applied some form of preventative care or treatment to five joints (and also my spine). But today’s a pretty normal day. I’ve had to adopt a new framework for normalcy. Not gonna lie, I am pretty proud of my ability to start off this semester ambidextrous after hand surgery.
  2. How to advocate for myself in a doctor’s office. At the beginning of my Samford career, I had probably reached a level of comfort in doctors’ offices. But especially in the past few months, I’ve gained the confidence to approach my medical professionals–who have completed many more years of schooling than I have–and tell them what I need. For instance, soon after surgery on my right hand, the instability in my left hand increased drastically. While my brilliant surgeon was focused on getting my right hand fully recovered, I had to speak up for myself and ask for a physical therapy script for my left hand. Because I advocated for myself, and because of my wonderfully competent physical therapist, the stability in my left hand has returned. I was able to identify what I needed because I’ve learned…
  3. How to listen to my body. I took an Anatomy & Physiology class last summer. Probably the most useful concept I learned was that of proprioception. This is a term for awareness of body positioning. Within the past few months, I truly felt that I could tell where my most unstable joints were at all times; I was able to sense when they were on the verge of dislocating and able to prevent full dislocations by activating specific muscles. As of right now, I can’t verbally explain the specifics of this process (or which muscles I’m activating at particular times), but I have some sort of grasp on the concept. I am now more attune to all of my skeletal muscles, and I pay special attention to muscles experiencing fatigue. When I catch this fatigue early on, I can prevent further injury.
  4. How to walk with friends through mental illness. Changing topics (and not revealing specifics): Samford is a very difficult environment to struggle with mental illness. “The Bubble” can become intoxicating when people expect you to at least act like you have your life together. I’ve witnessed the harm that people experience from overexposure to the filters we often place on our lives, our attempts to hide our struggles. I’ve had the privilege of sitting beside friends who were not okay and telling them, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I’ve learned the value of an assuring, non-judgmental presence.
  5. How to recognize my limitations. In light of these scenarios, I’ve also hit certain points when I realized that I was not the right person to be dealing with a situation. Just as I’ve learned to recognize when my muscles have been pushed too far, I’m beginning to realize when I’m being stretched too thin, emotionally. I’ve begun to learn the value of setting healthy boundaries and recognizing the need to refer people to professional help. Although one friendship has been lost through boundary setting, all others have grown much deeper as a result.
  6. How to recognize my purpose. Speaking of lost friendships, I did lose another friend who struggled with mental illness, and sadly we lost this friend to suicide. This tragedy brought about the element of emotional maturation that was most needed–the realization that I am not the only human being on the planet who experiences pain. To this day, I distinctly remember the sound of this friend’s loved ones expressing the pain they felt at her loss. That was the day I realized that this world is bigger than me and the pain I feel. As horrific as her death was to all those who were privileged to know her in this lifetime, it motivated me to listen for the similar sound of others hurting.
  7. How to grieve. After I witnessed the grief of this friend’s loved ones, I both witnessed and experienced grief over both of my dad’s parents. Soon after, I had reason to grieve the loss of my ability to perform music. I also grieved over my change of major and the friendships I had established within the Division of Music. I spent all of my junior year grieving these things. And I’ve learned that grief was justifiable and necessary before fully embracing my place in the Religion Department. (More on that in a later post.)
  8. How to organize my life so that I feel like I have some control. I’ve learned tactics to help me stay on top of physical and emotional pain. For instance, I’ve decided to set my limit on physical therapy time (outside of the clinic) to about 35 minutes–the length of a playlist I made to accompany my exercises. This playlist consists only of worship songs that help me center my life on the grace of God, as I try to center my joints. Multitasking by addressing physical and spiritual needs at the same time has been truly effective.
  9. How to relate to people through vulnerability. The concept of being vulnerable about my struggles is now fairly second nature to me, outside of the workplace. (Vulnerability has its appropriate settings–also more on that in a later post.) Vulnerability has opened the door to so many deep friendships that I cherish. It’s so freeing to not feel the need to fake my way into friendships. Vulnerability before God has also had countless benefits.

Ecclesiastes 3 (ESV)

A Time for Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The God-Given Task

What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

From Dust to Dust

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

With all of these things in mind, I’m happy to report one way in which God is redeeming the journey I’ve been on for the past four years. With all of these life lessons learned outside the classroom setting, it’s time to advance my knowledge in these areas inside the classroom. That classroom is found at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In the fall, I will begin their Master of Clinical/Medical Social Work program, with the hopes of working in both medical (hospital) settings and private clinical practice, in the long-term.

I included the entire chapter of Ecclesiastes 3 because I’ve often quoted verse 11 by itself. In context, I appreciate it even more. God has made my periods of mourning and healing and weeping and laughing and silence and vulnerability beautiful by providing purpose, although I cannot fathom what marvelous plans He has had in store for me from beginning to end. With this in mind, “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” I am only one person in this world God has created. I am only one person whose influence is limited to this brief lifetime. Everything I have gone through and everything I might ever do will hold no significance at the end of my life; the glory of the LORD will outlast me.

So, as Qoheleth suggests, I’m pursuing a career path that I believe I will enjoy in my brief lifetime. My Health Psychology class this semester is probably the closest I will come to encountering my graduate school courses before beginning grad school, and I am utterly fascinated by the course content. (If you didn’t know already, I’m a nerd.) And I hope to apply what I learn in grad school to provide mental health services to those facing new physical challenges, which, I believe, will also bring fulfillment to me. My not-Samford story will equip me to glorify the Author of this story I could never come up with on my own–I’m not that creative.

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?

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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