But God

What a semester. How do I describe it–living life on the edge, while my shoulder muscles hang on for dear life? Falling apart at the seams–literally? Trying to subdue the wanderlust of my shoulder?

I don’t know. What I know is that I have now completed the most circumstantially challenging semester of my entire life. Even though it feels like I’ve said that every semester for the past two years, this time it’s true. Thanks to all my prayer warriors who kept me going.

But there’s someone else who got me through the semester. (Hint: See title.) I wasn’t sure how to recount the events of this semester, for those of you who are interested. (Which I appreciate.) I finally decided on telling the actual story, hitting the highlights that stand out in my mind while also reflecting on how God got me through the difficult chunks of the semester. So here’s the story, chunk by chunk.

Beginning this semester was strange on so many levels. This was my first semester in my final major. (No but really this time. I’m technically a senior now, so this is the major I’m going with.) It was difficult not being in all the same classes as the people I had gotten to know over the last two years in the music building. I was a freshman all over again; this was my first semester of four non-music classes, and like normal freshman, I had to relearn how to study, manage time, etc. Apart from the academic/social changes, my tendons and ligaments were becoming so unpredictable. I had just had six dislocations in the past five months, when I had never experienced any before. I had no idea what to expect, injury-wise. After twelve years of performing music for other people, I never once showed physical signs of anxiety like I did before coming back to school this semester. This semester seemed impossible.

“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:26).

And clearly I lived to tell the tale, so with the strength God provided, I survived.

Third day of class. It turns out I had been a worry-wart for good reason. I don’t know exactly what happened. One second I was walking to get food. The next second, I wasn’t. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow my lateral meniscus in my left knee got displaced. Don’t worry–my kneecap hasn’t dislocated yet. *knocking on wood* I had never experienced that type of pain in my knee before, but I had with my shoulder. Which I had just discovered the likelihood of my torn labrum in my shoulder. So I thought I might have torn something in my knee. Great. Third day of class, and I hadn’t even been to all my classes that day. I still had one right after lunchtime, so I emailed my professor to say that I wouldn’t be in class because I couldn’t walk. I spent the first thirty minutes of class time icing my knee, all the while mad at myself for not being able to go to class on the first week of school. I was even debating just going back home for the semester and avoiding future instances like this.

But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).

Plot twist: I never had any more problems with my knee for the rest of the semester. Granted, I have to hold my kneecap in place as I stand up after sitting for long periods and while I walk up stairs. But I’ll take that any day over having it displaced again. God answered my prayer and took away the pain in my knee.

From then, I was doing just fine, until I got sick. Sick as in I was actually scared. I spent the day after my birthday in the hospital for testing, the next day trying (and failing) to recover, the next day dealing with the throbbing headache of a sinus infection, the next day {insert event that inspired my previous post on forgiveness}, and the next day having my shoulder dislocate not once but twice. I’ve never been so overwhelmed with constant frustration and disappointment. I rarely ever use this term, but I’m convinced that that week was spiritual warfare.

“And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” 2 Chronicles 20:15

More good news: We found the cause for what made me so sick, and it hasn’t happened to that extent again. Also, even better news: I don’t have to win my own battles, because they’re not my battles to begin with.

This next story is my favorite. Probably the one story that sticks out in my mind from all the chaos of this semester. So after the week mentioned above, I went to visit a sweet friend and her family in Nashville. It was a great escape from all the frustration of the previous week. When I got back, I had a paper due. I should also mention that with the fatigue associated with connective tissue disorders, planning is everything. I can’t pull all-nighters because my body WILL NOT function. I had planned to space out my paper by finishing it the morning it was due.

“Not today.” -Satan

I woke up that morning with my shoulder feeling as unstable as it had the week before. For safe measures, I decided to wear a sling all day. So about two and a half hours before the paper is due, I’m sitting in my room trying to write the last page and a half. Totally doable. Until the wifi starts to flicker in and out. In which case I rush to the library to finish my paper in the computer lab. Still wearing the sling. I pull the keyboard to a position where my arm in the sling can both rest in the sling and still allow my hand to type. As I take a break from typing and pull my arm back to a more neutral position, my shoulder dislocates. While I’m wearing a sling, people! Are you kidding me?! Am I just not supposed to finish this paper?!

I sat in the computer lab trying not to scream (because it’s the library) and also trying to breathe. That kinda stopped for a little while. Meanwhile, I still have a paper to finish. A few minutes later, a music major I hadn’t seen all semester asked how I was doing. Somehow I was able to put on a fake smile and lie and say that I was fine. I get back to my paper. I slap some words on the page. I stare at them, hoping they make grammatical sense. When I can’t handle the pain anymore, I decide to print it out and turn it in. Yes–I went to class with a dislocated shoulder so I could turn in a paper. {Dear Future Employers, I’m a very dedicated worker.} I had no idea what the last page and a half of my paper said, but I showed up to turn it in. Looking at my paper later on made me realize just how much dislocations affect the brain…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

Not only do I thank God for His mercy in saving me. I also thank Him for giving everyone in my class the opportunity to revise their papers. Insert “Doxology.”

My next event has a much happier ending. Thankfully this semester has provided the opportunity to lead two Bible studies–one with five 7th grade girls, and one that I co-lead with a group of college students. Both of these Bible studies have been great experiences this semester and have been so encouraging. In addition to getting my nails done for the first time with my 7th graders, I also had the joy of seeing a friend come to know Christ! This friend and I have struggled in similar areas in the past, and it was so incredible to witness first-hand the difference that hope in Jesus makes.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Even when we don’t deserve God’s love, even when we don’t give Him the love He deserves, He has already proven His love for us by loving us at our worst. This was such a pertinent truth to be reminded of in the middle of this semester.

Over the next few weeks, I experienced a few situations in which college students revealed that they really did not understand the physical challenges I face on a daily basis, or the emotional side effects of these challenges. This resulted in feelings of loneliness. But through this loneliness, God renewed in me a desire to relieve the emotional hurting of others.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

I’m not comparing my situation to the situation of Joseph. I haven’t been betrayed by my non-existing brothers or been accused of cheating or been thrown in prison. I do admire, however, his response to these situations: Although the enemy was fighting against me, God was fighting for me, to turn this situation into something good.

Today on my last day of my first semester as a Religion major, I thought about how my experience as a musician has helped me. And I think it relates to Joseph’s response: God intended difficult situations to result in good. God makes something out of what seems bad to make it something good. Growing up, I always heard my piano teacher/band directors tell me, “Don’t just play what’s on the page.” Music is made when your mind isn’t glued to what notes need to be played and when. The same goes for this semester: Good came from moments when I wasn’t so task-oriented that I forgot to look around at the people and situations around me.

So what now? Now that I’ve made it through this semester, it’s time to make sure some of these stories aren’t recurring. To lessen the chance of my shoulder dislocating while I’m writing papers (because I have a few more to write before I graduate), I’m having shoulder surgery tomorrow. Yeah not much time to recover from the chaos of this semester that you’ve bothered to read about this far. Also, not everyone thinks this surgery is a good idea. With a connective tissue disorder, there is a 20% chance (according to my doctor) that this surgery won’t be a permanent fix, and my shoulder will dislocate again. After much prayer, my incredible parents and I are going through with this surgery together. Yes, I’m nervous. (I’ve heard that recovery is rough.) But God.

But God.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 

 

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.