Paradoxical Lessons

As I was deciding on a concise description of this past semester, I tried to think of my most frequently used word. My roommate would tell you that my most frequently used phrase is “Wait, what?” (That’s also a fairly good summary of my semester.) But a word I don’t remember using until this semester is “bizarre.” Many circumstances of this semester were pretty bizarre and unprecedented in my life. When I searched for synonyms of “ironic,” which is another descriptive word for some situations this semester, I found the word “paradoxical.” Dictionary.com gives two definitions of paradoxical:

  1. having the nature of a paradox; self-contradictory.
  2. Medicine/Medical. not being the normal or usual kind
I would definitely say that circumstances of this semester weren’t “the normal or usual kind.” Even my takeaways from this semester are paradoxical, seemingly contradictory. But since God typically doesn’t use “normal” situations to reveal His extraordinary truths, I’m going to share my takeaways anyways.

How to Embrace My Inner SJ

I’d never taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment before this semester. Being surrounded by huge Myers-Briggs fans helped me become proficient in (or at least somewhat knowledgeable about) the personality types. I am an ISFJ and, thus, an SJ temperament. This means that I’m very detail-oriented and like things to go according to set plans. I very much prefer my Sensing nature over my Intuitive nature, especially in stressful situations. My proudest SJ moment of the semester was the weekend following the first week of class. On that Saturday morning, I woke up with a burning, 9 out of 10 pain in my right foot with every step I took. This pain really came out of nowhere–the only other times I had felt a 9 or above had been following invasive procedures. The SJ in me got to work immediately, determining that I would continue with as many commitments as possible, until I could see a doctor for a steroid injection. Since this occurred over the weekend, I knew that the earliest I could see my doctor would be the following Tuesday. I made plans to save my skips (which definitely came in handy at the end of the semester), since I would likely need to miss classes following the injection. Everything actually went according to this plan, when I found out that I had an inflamed nerve. I had saved my skips for just the right time; being able to rest after the injection allowed it to actually work. I’m glad that I planned to push through the high intensity of pain to get a lasting result afterwards.

How to Become Less SJ

On the other hand, detailed planning can only get you so far. I began this school year with a concentration in flute. With increased difficulty of supporting my flute with my weakest (yet dominant) hand, I decided to switch my concentration to piano for the spring semester. While there were other reasons for this change, I was convinced to make the switch at the thought of making my life easier. Plot twist: Being a piano major is not easy. The good news about switching my principal instrument is that I’m 99% sure that I don’t have tendinitis in my hand anymore. The bad news came with the unexpected subluxation (partial dislocation) of my dominant hand. Didn’t see that one coming. This increased laxity in my hand joints made the rest of the semester not impossible but incredibly difficult. My muscles began to go into overdrive, since my joints were less dependable. Preparing for a technique jury (scales and arpeggios–which I hadn’t played the entire time I was a flute major) led to muscular fatigue and dramatic collapses onto the floor of practice rooms. However, I survived and will be continuing as a piano concentration.

As my Myers-Briggs temperament will suggest, I’m not very Intuitive, and I’m not much of a Perceiver. I tend to get wrapped up in what’s directly in front of me and become paralyzed when things don’t go according to plan. Especially on the day of the subluxation, I became mad at God for this new symptom, for this new interruption to my plans for success. Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in his book Life Together that “we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God…we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” It takes an Intuitive mindset to see how our good God interrupts us for our own good, and this definitely isn’t my first instinct. But after some time, I realized that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t hold myself together: I completely fall apart without Him, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

How to Live Without Comfort

This semester promoted the obliteration of my comfort zones, musically, physically, and spiritually. Musically, this semester held many “firsts,” especially as a piano major. The most musically uncomfortable situation in which I found myself was an assignment of improvisation. “Just play something” stressed out the diehard SJ in me. But I survived the many “firsts” of piano and composition studies, as I learned to embrace the awkward.

I also had to emBRACE my physical pain, as I learned to persevere through more discomfort than ever before. In addition the new symptoms I mentioned above, all of my previous symptoms (except tendinitis) remain and have maintained the role of thorns in the flesh. This semester was different in that I didn’t have any planned appointments during the semester. Especially in the fall of this past year, I was able to look forward to the hope of new diagnoses or treatment options while still persevering through school. I didn’t have THAT hope this semester because I am still waiting on new appointments in the coming days and weeks. I had to learn to live without the comfort of situational hope and, instead, to rest in eternal hope.

In my journaling Bible, I have written next to James 5:16 (“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”), “If you have it all together, why do you need Jesus?” Over the past year, I’ve been attempting to be more vulnerable about my struggles because His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the context of biblical community, I have learned to experience the beauty of brokenness, despite the discomfort it may bring.

How to be Comforted

Through the experience of vulnerability, God has provided more comfort than I could have imagined. I’ve learned that people are searching for God’s truth about the hardships of life, but most are not willing to voice their concerns. Through the discomfort of speaking up (because I’m unapologetically an introvert), I have found comfort in finding others who struggle in similar ways. Voice cracks can be the most melodious sound to the ears of those hurting and can inspire others to use their broken voices.

Fear of the future has been a running theme in my life for a while now, and I’m just now realizing how prevalent it is in my life. But 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I have to admit that I used to worry about circumstantially being punished for my sins. But this fear is irrelevant with the presence of God’s perfect love. My biggest relief of this semester was the realization that God is not out to get me. The pain I experience is evidence that the enemy is out to get me, but by taking a step back and looking at the big picture, I can now see all the ways that God is working on my behalf. His goodness is evident in every situation He placed me in this semester. While I might not have immediately responded to these situations as He would have me respond, His faithful grace remained and will continue to sustain me.

Green Pastures

Of the strangest, most uncomfortable ways to wake up in the morning, a dislocated hand is pretty high on the list. Two weeks ago, I began to notice wrist pain in both hands immediately after waking up each morning. So I started wearing wrist wraps overnight. However, the loose support didn’t prevent one (or more) joints in my right hand from dislocating as I repositioned my hand last Saturday morning. If you’re confused as to how this happened, so am I.

I typically don’t like to explain my medical symptoms on my blog, but I feel like I should in this case, if only to reveal my utter state of confusion. It’s that point in the semester when I have most of the rest of the semester planned out on a daily basis. I haven’t had the time to process what this new development in my pain saga means. Since I have a spare hour or two today, I’m doing that now. Here are some thoughts on the Psalms that have provided me with comfort over the past few days.

Psalm 4:8 (NLT)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

The last time I remember this verse being particularly comforting was in elementary school, when I was afraid of robbers breaking in. I haven’t thought about this verse in years, until the Holy Spirit recently recalled it to mind. This verse has been my prayer each night since the dislocation. I’ve never felt more helpless than admitting to God that I can’t even sleep on my own without falling apart. But this feeling of helplessness is leading me to recognize that God is in control and “will keep me safe.”

Psalm 139:13-16 (HCSB)

13 For it was You who created my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well.
15 My bones were not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
all my days were written in Your book and planned
before a single one of them began.

 “My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret.” Part of my response to discovering more problems with my body is a response of arrogance; I think I know how God should have created me. But my bones were not hidden from Him when He created me: He knew exactly what He was doing when He made me the way that I am. Sometimes it’s hard to see that I have been “remarkably and wonderfully made;” sometimes I feel like I’ve been poorly made. But, according to verse 14, I should praise God in response to the way I am made. No matter how I feel at the moment, His “works are wonderful, and I know this very well,” deep down in my soul.

Psalm 23 (ESV)

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

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.

I’ve read this Psalm nearly every day for the past week. It has never been more meaningful to me than in this past week. Here are some insights the Holy Spirit has revealed for each verse.

1- When God is in control, I can’t ask for anything more. When I attempt to be in control, I need everything. With God in control, I need nothing more.

2- I don’t always want to lie down. Sometimes I need someone to make me. However, when God “makes me lie down,” it’s in green pastures. It’s in community with other believers. It’s in a place surrounded by love and care. He knows what I need when I don’t. When I’m angry at God for making me lie down, I have no reason to be, because I’m in green pastures.

3- My soul needs restoration. Even when I think that I need physical healing, God goes out of His way to bring me spiritual healing.

4- God doesn’t make me lie down in the valley of the shadow of death; He guides me to walk right through it. And even during the brief times in the valley, He is with me.

5- Instead of counting the number of problems I have, I should be counting the number of blessings. If I did, the number of blessings would exceed the number of problems.

6- I don’t deserve goodness or mercy, and I certainly don’t deserve to dwell in the presence of God forever. However, Christ paid too high a price for me to deny this gift.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a part of my green pasture, and I want to thank you for the role that you play in my life. Writing this post has been a challenge–both physically and spiritually. (I’ve had to ice my hands the whole time I’ve written this post, not to mention the strange and incredible foot pain during the middle of this post.) But I needed to remind myself that I do not dwell in the valley of the shadow of death; until I dwell in the presence of God, I will rest, under His guidance, in green pastures.

Redefining Comfort

I want to start this post in a mindset of gratitude. I won’t go so far as to say that the past two months have been the most difficult, but they certainly have not been easy. In all honesty, I would not have survived the first half of this semester without the care and support I’ve received from friends and family–including biological family, church family, and professors that act as my family away from home. Please understand that your accommodation of plans and general concern for my well-being are not only appreciated, but also remembered. Through the most uncomfortable situations, I receive unconditional love from other members of the body of Christ.

However, in order to reach this point, repetitive instances of vulnerability were required. I often hear, “You don’t look like you’re in pain.” This statement both relieves and frustrates me: I’m glad that I apparently don’t look as awful as I feel, but I don’t enjoy having to point out the fact that I’m pain. (One of my reasons for making this blog is to limit the number of verbal explanations I have to give.) Vulnerability hurts. It gives others full access to view your inner pain. I’m highly uncomfortable when others discover my limitations. But I do have control over this type of discomfort; I choose to embrace the uncomfortable situations of sharing my struggles, with the hope of receiving comfort in return. As John Ortberg states in All the Places to Go, “The paradox of Jesus is that vulnerability is stronger than invulnerability.” I find more comfort in learning of others’ struggles than in concealing my own. Jesus had to break the five loaves before they could multiply to feed thousands. In the same way, I should take comfort in the state of brokenness, knowing that this is how God can use me.

Along the same lines of pride, I like to control what I can. Since I can hardly control my physical circumstances, I like to think that I have control over where God stands in my life. Since I can’t run, I pretend that I can run from God. Since fatigue seems to control my life, I pretend that I’m strong enough to hold God at arm’s length. But this has left me more exhausted and more uncomfortable than any of my health conditions. Comfort is not controlling what I can; it is giving control to the One who knows what He’s doing.

Because chronic pain involves the physical senses, I can easily get wrapped up in the here and now. As a result, I sometimes struggle with seeing the goodness of God right here and right now. So I’m choosing to look to the past and future.

Looking back to the creation account, we see that pain did not exist until after the Fall. By God’s provision of food (Genesis 1:29), occupation (Genesis 2:19), and companionship (Genesis 2:22), we can infer that God never intended for us to be lacking in these areas. He truly does have our best interests in mind. Even with the creation of Eve, God took great care of Adam: He caused “a deep sleep to fall” on him as He removed a rib (Genesis 2:21). The word “pain” is not used until after sin enters the world:

Genesis 3:16-17

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for[a] your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

Just as sin was not God’s intention for humanity, neither was pain.

In the same way, God does not intend His people to be defeated by pain. Revelation 21:4 gives us the assurance that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” God is a righteous Judge Who will carry out His wrath on the conniver of injustice.

You might be wondering why I identified my pain as “injustice.” Until recently I refused to use this term to describe my own circumstances, which do not include social injustice. But after hearing a sermon on God our Judge, I realized other situations in my life that God did not originally intend. Why would God, who desires me to draw near to Himself, allow me to be overcome by pain and fatigue every night that I try to spend studying His Word? Why would God, who desires me to fellowship with other believers, regularly cause significant pain that changes my plans to attend church? Why would God, who desires me to participate in His Kingdom work, prevent me from becoming an overseas missionary, as I had originally hoped? I don’t believe that God wishes these circumstances on me. Therefore, I believe that I am suffering injustice by the enemy.

I find comfort in the idea that my anger is justified. However, I’ve been projecting my anger in the wrong direction. Rather than being angry at the God who didn’t and doesn’t intend for me to be in pain, I should be angry at the thief who “comes to steal, kill, and destroy;” this Easter season, I choose to return to the One who “came that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Overarching Story

Everything is connected! Literally, but not ideally. I officially found out yesterday that the chronic pain I’ve experienced in my feet, hands, and back over the past five years is all connected; it is due to weaker connective tissue in those areas, which is causing the inflammation, joint instability, and muscle fatigue (from overuse). Fortunately, I was not diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder, so it’s unlikely that I will have problems with connective tissue in other organs. I don’t have a disease–I’m just not normal. I’m not chronically ill–I just have chronic pain. Don’t get me wrong: I may or may not have had multiple breakdowns in the past week over the amount of pain I experience on a daily basis. But none of my specialists have predicted that things will get drastically worse over time. With no estimation that my life will get more difficult (physically), I feel less intimidated by the future and more excited for what God has in store, despite the pain.

Yesterday my doctor described a vivid memory from a med school textbook: Two x-rays with the same degree of scoliosis curve were placed side by side. One was an x-ray of a mountain hiker, the other of one confined to a wheelchair. He basically told me that the quality of my life is up to me–whether or not I defeat the pain or let it defeat me.

As encouraging as that is, I disagree. As Paul states, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). In my own strength, I will fail every time. Only through His strength am I able to do anything. If I’m going to be a mountain climber, it will only be because “Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).

After my doctor explained that there is no cure for my weaker connective tissue, he asked me how I felt. Honestly, I felt/feel fine, which isn’t apparently how everyone else responds. He said some get angry with him for not being able to prescribe a pill to fix everything. While I still wish he could do that, I have a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In finding out that everything is connected, I can rest in the sovereignty of God, by whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

This idea of God connecting unlikely events to accomplish His purposes reminds me of a paper I just wrote for my Biblical Perspectives class. In this paper, we were to explain how the Bible, as a whole, is one overarching story. I’ve come to realize that the Bible is a continuous story of redemption, with God’s grace acting as the hero. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel struggles to remain committed to covenant relationship with Yahweh. Still, the Israelites serve as a model of the reception of grace. Then Jesus comes as the manifestation of grace, to form relationships with individuals of all nations. Finally, the church is given the task of sharing the message of grace with all people.

So what about God’s story today? How does my story fit into God’s story? How do we explain recent attacks on Paris and in other locations, in light of God’s overarching story of redemption? How do we respond to Syrian refugees, considering God’s constant grace? I don’t know what God has planned for the rest of my story, but submitting my story to His is the only option for me. And if His story includes pain for me, so be it. C.S. Lewis states in The Problem of Pain, “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.” In a sense, the presence of suffering in the world should bring hope, due to the knowledge that God isn’t finished with us yet. And since we, as sinners saved by grace, are waiting to return Home, we should not neglect the suffering of those also without a home and also in need of grace. Until the end of suffering, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Everything is connected.

Restless

I’m on my second “sick day” of the week, complete with a dead phone and dead charger. I mention this because I currently don’t know what to do with myself; it is a truly rare occasion that I am not in class or rehearsal, or preparing for class or rehearsal, or taking a temporary break on my phone. To-do lists are the script of my life. I don’t run on caffeine. Instead, I run on the sense of accomplishment when I complete a task. Generally speaking, rest is not my preferred method of spending time.

Conviction time: Even God needs rest. The phrase “You can have too much of a good thing” applies to creation.

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day. So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God had completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.” Genesis 1:31-2:3)

In order to fully appreciate the good work He accomplished, God needed rest. And because God Himself needed rest, rest became holy, meaning “set apart.” Rest is set apart because it is contrary to the human inclination to keep pressing forward. Ironically, the way to fight my natural sinful tendencies is to rest. And when I reach a state of rest, I can be godly by stepping back, appreciating the work I have done through God’s strength, and seeing it as good.

More specific than general rest, I need relational rest. I had the privilege of getting to meet Audrey Assad yesterday. Her song that I knew the best was “Restless,” so I was especially interested when she spoke of her desire (in leading worship) to lead the congregation to a place of rest before God. During a Q&A session, I got the chance to ask her to expand on this idea. She used the illustration of Mary and Martha, saying that we need a “holy imbalance” between the two; we need to pay attention to details like Martha, but it is also “necessary” for us to rest in the presence of our Savior (Luke 10:42). Being conscientious in our duties is important, but Jesus claimed that Mary made the better choice by choosing relationship over responsibility. We live for relationships–first and foremost with the Lord and then with fellow sinners in need of His grace. While all relationships are worth our investment, our relationship with the Lord is especially significant in that we are commanded to rest and be the weaker half: “‘Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28-30). Through intimacy with the Lord, we have the freedom to rest in the arms of One Who is stronger than us.

Outside of community, I need my own personal rest. Earlier I may have given the impression that I never experience rest. That would not be true, or else I wouldn’t have survived this long in college. However, I very rarely experience intentional rest; most of my rest is unintentional. At the end of a normal day of five classes, rehearsals, and work, I come back to my dorm to do homework for the next day’s five classes. (The joys of being a music major.) But recently, whenever I finally sit down to get some work done, fatigue and pain take over, leaving me no choice but to lie down and relax every muscle of my body. This is always a setback in my plan to be productive and is, therefore, very frustrating. I’m constantly reminded of my own weakness through the necessity to stop my own plans and follow the orders of my exhausted body. Yesterday I learned the root of my frustration through the lyrics of Audrey Assad’s song: “I’m restless ’til I rest in You.” Every time that I am forced to stop my own plans and rest, God is providing time to reflect on the good He is bringing out of my life and to freely enjoy His presence. The slower-paced times of my life are not a curse; it is a blessing to spend time worshipping my Savior. As Psalm 62:5 says, “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.”

For Such A Time As This

Five years ago today, I made my first step on the journey that has taken me to places I would never have imagined. Granted, that first step was so painful that I nearly fell flat on my face. For some reason unknown to me (and to my doctors), I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot overnight. It has persisted for the past five years, though we have tried every conservative treatment imaginable. Additionally, my scoliosis curve became severe around year two. And in the past year, I developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, along with tendinitis in my hands and feet. Although pain–at times–seems to consume my life, it is not my story. But this is my story; this is my song- praising my Savior all the day long.

On Sunday morning September 12, 2010, the Lord awoke me with joy and anticipation of spending time in His presence. I began the day in satisfaction through reading Jesus Calling. I felt energized to go and be strengthened by other believers. Little did I know that all of these sensations would be challenged to this day, following the first step I took that morning.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not normal for someone to pinpoint the day their chronic pain began. However, my pain was so immediate–meaning I had absolutely no pain before September 12, 2010–that I couldn’t forget that day. I think it goes without saying that it’s not normal for someone under the age of 20 to experience pain for five years. It’s also not normal for every conservative measure of plantar fasciitis treatment to fail. Mayo Clinic claims, “Most people who have plantar fasciitis recover with conservative treatments in just a few months.” The fact that I have dealt with pain is ordinary; I know that everyone experiences pain in some way throughout life. But the fact that God has used such extraordinary circumstances to form my story makes me feel humbled and honored (sometimes).

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

In the famous passage of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Qoheleth identifies various human responses to life’s circumstances. For example, verse 4 identifies “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Over the past five years, I’ve felt the need to weep, but I’ve also identified my need to laugh. I’ve felt the need to mourn my situation, but I’ve also understood my need to embrace my circumstances. (Maybe not through dancing.) I’ve had numerous responses to my pain these past five years. But even though I’ve constantly changed, God never has.

Positive changes: In the first year, I finally surrendered my whole life to Christ on December 16, 2010. On that life-changing day, I truly became a follower of Christ. And in the second year, I felt God’s call to ministry. That day changed the direction of the rest of my life. Some tidbits from my quiet-time journals during those years:

May 22, 2011: The point of suffering is not escape but to hit your knees in reverence for God. Don’t focus on your own struggle or escape, but focus on the God who will carry you through every step.

August 4, 2011: I should be reminded by sharp pain that God may need to “prune my branches” and cut out the sin in my life. In sensitivity, I need to remember to be sensitive to others’ needs. I am in pain so that I can see and reach others in pain. So my pain is for my good, others’ gains, and God’s glory.

December 24, 2011: I don’t think I can handle another chronic [health] problem! [That was five chronic health problems ago. It’s amazing how God’s strength has come through for me when I am helpless and powerless.]

Not-so-positive changes: During that first year, I honestly feel like I sought God as the answer to my pain, since I was a new follower of Christ. However, as time passed, my focus changed. During the second year, I pursued academics as a way of forgetting my pain. The third year led me to seek comfort in friends before God. I spent my fourth year making MY decisions about MY future. Over this past year, I sought medical answers more than biblical answers, relief more than relationship with God. Somewhere between my first and fifth year, I lost the passion I once had for hearing God’s voice comfort me with truth.

Despite all my mistakes, God has never given up on me–even when I’ve given up on Him. C.S. Lewis describes God’s “Divine Humility”: “He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.” When I seek God after trying everything I can think of on my own, He still accepts me when I finally return. Time after time, His grace amazes me!

I still don’t have all the answers. Obviously, there’s still more that God wants me to learn through pain. And I don’t have an easy road ahead of me: Especially within the past year, my pain has intensified and spread. (As I write this, I have a brace on my wrist, heat on my back, and ice on my feet.) So when people ask me what’s next, I can only smile, throw up my hands, and say, “I don’t know.” I’m still unsure of the exact cause and what else I can do.

Throughout my spiritual struggle with pain, I’ve often angrily asked God, “Why have You done this to me? What do You want from me?” And afterwards I would feel bad for asking those questions. But now I’m thinking that I need to ask them every day.

In the book of Esther, Haman creates a plan to kill all of the Jews, which includes Esther and Mordecai. Since Esther is queen, Mordecai asks her to speak to the king on behalf of their people: “If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Time is the gift of choice. We are all given 24 hours in a day to spend however we choose. Some of us are given difficult seasons of life, also to spend however we choose. Chronic pain is not a choice. The decision lies in whether I am chronically disappointed or chronically joyful, chronically overwhelmed or chronically hopeful, chronically defeated or chronically victorious. To make the best use of my time in this season of life, I want to ask God daily why He has me in this position. I want to be open to opportunities when God will answer, “For such a time as this.”

Pain, Loss, and a Loss to Explain the Pain

Summer 2015 is definitely a summer to be remembered. It has been unlike any other summer, in that I’ve never experienced more pain, confusion, and uncertainty. Yet through it all, the goodness of God has been evident.

Pain:

Hosea 11:3- “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms, but they never knew that I healed them.”

The first month of this summer, I spent relearning how to walk: I had a procedure known as PRP therapy on both feet, with the second occurring two weeks after the first. I had this procedure on just my left foot last summer, so I mostly understood what I was getting into. But it ended up being more difficult than I expected.

The night after I had my left foot done, following my right foot, I sat on my couch, unable to laugh, unable to talk, unable to blink. The pain was so great that the only movement I could make was wiping away the tears that involuntarily flowed from my eyes. Using the pain scale of 1 to 10, I was trying my hardest to believe I was not at a 10; I had never experienced deeper pain in my 4 1/2 year of pain.

The next few days were insanely difficult. Since I was relearning how to use both feet, what once took me 10 seconds to walk across my house took me 10 minutes. I had to hold on to walls with every step. And each step felt more exhausting than the last. Every day felt like a nightmare.

But here’s the fascinating part: I was so wrapped up in the fact that I was in pain that I didn’t realize my pain had decreased every single day. A week after the procedure on my left foot, I realized that I didn’t need my boot anymore. And a week after that, I didn’t need to hold on to walls anymore. And a week after that, I was driving without pain! All of these realizations were sudden, and I saw how God had gotten me one step closer to recovery. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis states that pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Goodness of God: If it wasn’t for my pain, and then lack thereof, I wouldn’t have seen how God has been there literally every step of the way.

Loss:

Colossians 4:5- “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

This summer I lost a sweet friend, Kelsey. Kelsey and I went to elementary school together, became friends through a science project in 7th grade, and stayed friends through all of high school. This was my first friend my age to pass away- long before anyone expected.

The funeral home was packed for her funeral. I don’t think Kelsey ever realized just how many lives she impacted. The room was filled with sadness- sadness at the realization that we can only rely on memory to experience the happiness she always spread. Yet another emotion filled the room- regret. We regretted the loss of the opportunity to be there for her. Most of our friends said the same thing: “I wish we would have kept in touch.”

Through this tragedy, God provided an opportunity for me to learn how to improve the way I relate to others. First, I learned to promptly take advantage of the chance to share God’s love, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Delayed obedience is disobedience; the Spirit prompts us to obey in His perfect timing. Therefore, I don’t want to procrastinate loving others any longer.

Secondly, I learned that, although life is hard, the absence of life is harder; other people are struggling as much as–and more than–me. In recent months, I’ve been so overwhelmed by my own pain that I’ve forgotten that others are hurting too. Leading up to the funeral, as her loved ones expressed to me their hurt, I realized what brokenness sounds like. I don’t want to be deaf to this sound any longer. Philippians 2:4 tells us that “everyone should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.”

Goodness of God: Even with death, God can still use the hurt to motivate others to live like Him.

Loss to Explain the Pain:

Galatians 2:20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

After two additional rounds of PRP therapy, I thought, “This is going to be it. It’s going to work this time.” And I think it did: Weeks 7 and 8 (or 5 and 6, for my left foot) were great! I was walking barefoot on tile without pain. But by Week 9, I developed additional pain–and severe, at that. It was at that point that my right Achilles tendon (on the outside and back of the heel) became inflamed. This tendon was not touched during PRP, since I hadn’t had problems with it before. In the next few weeks, I developed problems with my wrist, which had been present a few months before but never received a diagnosis. At my most recent appointment, I was diagnosed with tendonitis on the outsides of my wrists. (I had previously been diagnosed with tendonitis on the thumb side of my right wrist.) One year ago today, I might have been experiencing (at most) some back discomfort. In the past year alone, I have redeveloped plantar fasciitis, but in both feet, and I’ve developed tendonitis in both sides of both wrists and both feet. None of this has made sense to me.

Christian metaphor time! Since I’m writing this at the beach, I’ll use a beach metaphor.

Today when I went out in the water, the waves were frequent and strong. At first I approached the waves by trying to stand my ground and not fall. It was difficult because wave after wave crashed into me, while all I did was face and brace myself for the next. Later on, I got on a float and rode on top of the waves. I felt proud that the waves could no longer get to me. I enjoyed floating up and down at the passage of each new wave. But the problem with riding on top of the waves was that I was moving backwards instead of forwards. However, I found another response to the waves: remaining on my knees, with my back to the incoming waves, as I let the impact carry me forward. I didn’t know when the next wave would arrive. I didn’t know what the magnitude of the next wave would be. And, surprisingly, it was liberating. Since I had no idea what to expect next, there was nothing I could do to prepare or prevent it. I was free to relax and let it move me. Similarly, I’m not strong enough to simply face my pain, and I don’t want to conquer my pain only to move backwards. The only way to move forward without getting beaten by my circumstances is to stay on my knees in prayer.

Right now, I have more questions than answers. I really don’t know where to go from here. I am at a loss to explain my pain. I have no control in preventing my pain. But here’s the reward: The One who is in control of my circumstances is the One who “brings out the starry host by number” and “calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).

Goodness of God: When my situation is out of my control, it is in God’s control.

I know that in all things, my God is good. I’m sincerely grateful for the difficulties of this summer; without them, I would feel entitled to a good life and neglect a good God.

Proactive Healing

I love Pinterest. I love the quick links to easy steps for a better life. Pinterest has a way of motivating people to improve their lives by empowering them to think, “Even I can do that!” Even though many (including myself) fail to follow through with Pinterest projects, the starting point of pinning creates a desire for a quick-easy fix to life’s problems.

I recently turned to Pinterest for a quick-easy fix. Yesterday morning I had a doctor’s appointment where I was given an indefinite treatment plan of lifestyle changes. After being presented with multiple (possible) contributing factors to my pain, I decided to start my own research based on Pinterest links. The quick links to easy steps to a pain-free life told me about 18,000 foods I need to incorporate into my diet. There is absolutely no way I could ever try everything that the links suggested. To try anything would be a contradiction to the findings in another article. And that was only the nutritional aspect of my research. I was left completely overwhelmed. This time Pinterest didn’t make me feel empowered; it made me feel powerless.

My search for proactive healing reminds me of the woman who bled for 12 years. (But thank God I’m not that bad off!) Luke 8:43 tells us that she “spent all she had on doctors yet could not be healed by any.” Where doctors and treatment plans failed her, Jesus came through for her. After all of her efforts to find healing herself, she only found it when she reached out for Jesus.

As human beings, it is in our nature to want to fix things ourselves. After all, Eve bit the apple to know good and evil for herself. But this attraction to self-help created the largest problem humanity has ever faced: sin. And still, we want to fix this problem ourselves. When the prison doors opened for Paul and Silas, the jailer thought he was done for. But at the discovery of his remaining prisoners, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Even when we desire to be saved, we want something to do.

Paul and Silas told the jailer to “believe on the Lord Jesus” in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). They didn’t give him a to-do list or Five Easy Steps for a Better Eternity. Instead, they pointed him to the person of Jesus Christ. I think that sometimes we overcomplicate the Gospel; we want ourselves to have a role in our own salvation. We ask, “What must I DO to be saved?” Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us the answer: nothing.

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.

Although we should strive to live as followers of Christ, nothing we can ever do will bring about salvation for ourselves. The only role we have in our own salvation is in trusting Jesus to save.

In regards to my own healing, I’m not saying that I only have to believe, and I will be healed. God isn’t Santa Claus. My point is that I can try everything and succeed at nothing, if I’m acting apart from Christ. Proverbs 16:9 states, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” Our plans, our quick-easy fixes, our efforts to save ourselves will be trumped by God’s will. And the good thing about that is the fact that He wants to be our source of provision. So instead of seeking out proactive healing, let’s seek the Healer Himself.

Spoon Theory But Biblical

{Explanation of title}

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather ENOUGH FOR THAT DAY…” Exodus 16:4

Essentially, manna was, for the Israelites, the means through which God provided strength. In my own life, I’ve seen God provide in similar ways.

1.) Manna is different for each person

“The person who gathered a lot had no surplus, and the person who gathered a little had no shortage. Each gathered as much as he needed to eat.” Exodus 16:18b

We can play the comparison game and miss the fact that God provides each individual with exactly what he or she needs. At the end of the day, God has provided enough strength to get through another day.

2.) Manna is, in itself, a question.

The term “manna” literally means “what?”. When God provided a new source of strength, it didn’t make any sense to the Israelites. They had never seen that frost-looking substance in the desert before, so they didn’t understand why they were supposed to be energized by something that wasn’t normal at all. Often, we doubt God’s intentions in providing something new.

3.) Manna makes dependence on God imperative.

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not know, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3

The Israelites couldn’t provide strength for themselves. Because they had to wait on God to act, God wanted them to desire Him more than comfort.

4.) Manna is constant.

“The Israelites ate manna for 40 years…” Exodus 16:35a

God doesn’t grow weary of providing for us. Even when we get tired of God’s will prevailing, He doesn’t give up on us.

5.) Manna isn’t ideal.

“We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!” Numbers 11:5-6

The Israelites were accustomed to having food–and good food, at that–given to them. But previously it had not come directly from God, and they did not have to put in as much work to obtain food. As God began to directly provide food to them, they had to work to reap of its benefits. Often, we fail to take advantage of God’s gifts because we don’t want to work–i.e. deny ourselves–to receive their benefits.

6.) Manna gives the opportunity to rest.

“‘Understand that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day He will give you two days’ worth of bread. Each of you stay where you are; no one is to leave his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” Exodus 16:29-30

God’s provision of strength enables us to rest in the goodness of Jehovah Jireh. When we let go and let God provide, we experience peace and rest, which God intended for us to have.

7.) Manna is fulfilling.

“‘I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them: At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will eat bread until you are full. Then you will know that I am Yahweh your God.” Exodus 16:12

The Lord takes delight in meeting our every need. But He also takes delight in our glorification of Him as a result of His provision.

8.) Manna is God’s provision in God’s perfect timing.

“So at evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp.” Exodus 16:13

God provides manna during the night so that we can appreciate it in the morning. He also gets us through the night to help us see His gifts in the morning.

9.) Manna shows others how God has rescued us.

“Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Two quarts of [manna] are to be preserved throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 16:32

Because of God’s provision, we have a reason to declare the goodness of God. We have a story to tell.

10.) Manna serves as a reminder that better things are coming.

“He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers had not know, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end He might cause you to prosper.” Deuteronomy 8:16

God’s provision of strength in this life should remind us, as believers, that we are currently in our weakest state, waiting to be made whole in the presence of God.

Stand

Standing, in our culture, is considered an act of respect and commendation. When a judge enters the court room, everyone stands. At a graduation procession, everyone stands. And in a worship service at church, everyone stands.

Romans 14:10-12

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Besides sin, all of humanity holds this in common. One day we will all stand before God (v. 10). Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (v. 12). Yet we also have something else in common: We will all bow before before God as we acknowledge Him.

For a while now, I’ve held on to the hope that in Heaven, I will no longer experience pain in standing, walking, or running. I have often turned to Isaiah 40:29-31 for literal encouragement.

Isaiah 40:29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.

However, now I’m realizing that whether or not this passage literally plays out doesn’t change my hope; whether or not I’m able to actually “run and not grow weary,” or “walk and not faint,” doesn’t matter. What matters is that I will be in the presence of the One who is truly the Healer of my soul.

The act of standing before God is something to anticipate. But who’s to say that we’ll be able to stand? Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and soaked in the words of His message and the joy of His presence (Luke 10:39). Saul fell down at the sight of Jesus at his conversion (Acts 9:4). And “the 24 elders fall down before the One seated on the throne” (Revelation 4:10).

I personally feel that the ability to stand is often taken advantage of by most people. I used to be bitter over the fact that I am less capable of standing without pain than other people. But now God is showing me that the ability to sit (or stand or lay flat on my face) in His presence is truly a gift. The joy of being in the presence of God should be enough to satisfy me.

So because Jesus stood before the Roman soldiers and received the punishment we deserve, “we have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).