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.

Why I Welcome Jokes About My Pain

The “chronic” part of chronic pain means that things get old pretty quickly. “Things” meaning thought processes, daily routines, joints, etc. And over time, you’ll need to experience a variety of emotional responses.

Yes, chronic pain can be daily frustrating and exhausting and disappointing. But it can be other things too. Even in seasons of chronic pain flareups, joy can and should be found. One way I try to look for joy in my situation is through humor, whether that’s my own jokes about my pain or laughing at others’ jokes about my pain or their own. Here’s why.

  1. Humor cuts the tension of not knowing what to say. When multiple of my extremities have on noticeable braces, and when I can see your look of confusion about what to say, I feel more sorry for you than you do for me. Cue the jokes. Pain-related humor opens the door to talking about the obvious. You may be afraid of phrasing questions about my situation the wrong way. Jokes are sometimes my way of helping you out.
  2. My situation actually is humorous. Maybe in the moment, it can be difficult to see the humor. But sometimes my life is so ironic that I have to laugh in the moment. Like that one time I was trying to finish a paper two hours before it was due, and my shoulder dislocated–while wearing a sling that was supposed to keep that from happening. In that moment, it was kinda hard to breathe from the pain, but I was still able to send out a PSA that school is dangerous. The fact that I can injure myself doing the most mundane tasks makes my life so much more interesting. Sometimes I imagine my life being livestreamed in Heaven with God as the “heavenly host” [not the punchline], complete with questions for the audience such as “Will she be able to take out the trash without further injuring her arms? Let’s find out!” My life is never boring anymore, so I try to take advantage of it through humor.
  3. When chronic pain limits my abilities, I know that I still have the ability to make myself (and hopefully other people too) laugh. My use of the phrase “I can’t” seems to outweigh my use of the phrase “I can,” as of late. Especially since I’ve lost my ability to perform music, I’ve been trying to remind myself that my life isn’t over, even if my performing career is. Sometimes my self-pep talk consists of a mere “I can do things!” My goal in making jokes about my pain is not always to get other people to laugh. If I make a joke, I think it’s funny. And that’s good enough for me.
  4. I can either laugh or cry. Confession: I do need to cry over my situation every once in a while. It can relieve tension and make me tired enough to get some sleep. But the benefits of crying don’t outweigh the benefits of laughter. Laughter takes away the sting of the moment and replaces worry with peace. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” I choose the medicine of a joyful heart over dried-up bones. I’m having enough problems with my skeletal system as it is.
  5. Making light of my situation reminds me not to take this life too seriously. If this present life is all that I am guaranteed, then I would definitely take my health (or lack thereof) seriously all the time. Thank the Lord that this is not the only life I will live or the only body I will possess! Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Paul is reminding the Philippians that, although this present life matters, the next is what we’re living for. Hope for tomorrow makes today not only bearable, but also enjoyable, in that it provides a greater end goal than immediate health.
  6. Jesus is better. Paul understands me. I relate on a spiritual level. When God told Paul that His grace was enough to sustain him, despite his thorn in the flesh, Paul responds in a way that can’t make sense to non-believers: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). I looked up some definitions for verse 9. The Greek word for “boast” means “to glory on account of.” To “glory” means to “take great pride or pleasure in.” Paul found pleasure in his weaknesses as opportunities to magnify the power of Christ. Chronic pain as an opportunity–what a thought! I can be content with my pain. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Tunnel Vision (An Open Letter to God)

Dear God,

Remember me? We met a long time ago. We got really close a few years ago. I haven’t heard from You in a while, so I thought I’d check in.

I’ve been doing okay, sometimes. Less-than-okay at other times. Actually quite often. I’m usually kept busy with that thing I’ve had going on for a while now. You know, chronic pain. I’ve been in pain since before You and I had the DTR, when I decided to trust You completely. So really You should know by now how much it’s affected my life. You should know about the daily struggle to simply function, the setbacks in my goals, and the complete career change that resulted from the pain.

Not that I’m trying to only complain. It’s true that You’ve gotten me through many hard times. And I’d like to think that I’ve given You the credit.

But there’s something that’s been bothering me, and I think You ought to know. I often feel pain more than I feel Your presence. God. where are You on the hardest days? The I-can’t-get-out-of-bed days, the every-body-part-hurts days, especially the how-long-Oh-Lord days?

My own body taunts me, saying, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10).

You say that when two or more or gathered in Your name, there You are (Matt. 18:20). But what about the times when I’m all alone? Where are you then?

Where are you when I am either yelling from pain or silenced by pain, having to remind myself to breathe?

I feel like no one understands, or is attempting to understand, what I’m going through.  My life feels surrounded by darkness, like I’m traveling down a never-ending tunnel.

I’m trying to go back to the times when I felt You near me, when I felt that You knew how much pain I was in. I guess You did leave me Your Word to remember You by. Maybe I can remember what You would say if You were with me and could feel my pain. I turn to Your Word and see that You, God, are not exempt from suffering.

I see You, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. The sweat from Your brow reveals that even Your body–fully man and fully God–was wondering where Your Father was.

I see You with me in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). I’m never alone.

Not only that–I see that You’re with me in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). When I have to remind myself to breathe, You breathe life back into me. I could have a perfectly functioning body but would be nothing without Your breath of life.

The person I read about in Your Word is not who I’ve recently imagined You to be. Each  time I assign to You a label of unfaithfulness, apathy, or malevolence, I commit the greatest act of misunderstanding. I’m sorry, Lord.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12

You must have seen the tears rolling down my face as I walked down the halls of the hospital. You must have heard my gasping for air when the pain was overwhelming. You must have. Because You were there.

You see. You hear. You’re here.

God, remind me that You are beside me, holding my right hand as You offer Your help and tell me not to fear (Isaiah 41:13).

Remind me that You are behind me, telling me which way to go (Isaiah 30:21).

Remind me that You are beneath me, as my foundation more solid than a rock, helping me withstand the storm (Matthew 7:24-25).

Remind me that You are above me, residing over both the powerful and the humble, as You observe everything I’m going through (Isaiah 40:22-23).

Remind me that You are in front of me, as the end goal for the race set before me (Hebrews 12:1-2). You’re the light at the end of this tunnel. Although I may still feel the darkness around me, You, the lamp to my feet, provide enough light for me to take one step at a time (Psalm 119:105).

Remind me that You are in me, giving my weak and dysfunctional body intrinsic worth (1 Corinthians 6:19).