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.

Time and Timelessness

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Or also when you have shoulder surgery, and your life is less fun.

Still, I can’t believe it’s been 10 weeks since surgery! And that I’ve been back at school for almost five weeks! I thank God that this extremely difficult season–as a whole–is flying by.

Not to say that every day is easy. In fact, no day has been easy in the recovery process, and I don’t expect to have an “easy” day for several months. Each day in itself can be so discouraging. Yet at the end of the day, I’m one step closer to reaching functional level. And for that, I must thank God for His daily dose of new mercies.

Where am I now? Well my victories for this week include driving off campus, attending church without wearing my sling (which was actually a mistake, considering how enthusiastic my church is about supporting international missionaries–that was a little risky on my part), and…wait for it…actually pulling my hair back BY MYSELF! You can tell where my priorities are. But in my defense, my doctor said in my last appointment that the goal for right now is to be able to do my hair on my own. So.

On my own. That’s a phrase I haven’t used in the past 10 weeks, at least regarding my current abilities. I have to say that this recovery process has been the most humbling experience of my life. I can’t really compare my recovery period to the months between the first dislocations and surgery. That timeframe was filled with fear of the unknown that wasn’t settled by any of my own efforts. But I can compare this recovery road to my life before dislocations.

It’s hard to believe what I was doing a year ago. In my first and final semester as a piano major, I spent hours practicing an instrument that I (now) can’t even hold my arm at the appropriate level to play. I rehearsed and performed with the orchestra a 45-minute long, and very difficult, work on the flute, which has been sitting at the bottom of my closet for seven months. I spent my free time, in addition to study time and rehearsal time, in the music building, remaining on the other side of campus from my ice packs that are now a necessity every two to four hours.

Time is funny like that. It just takes a little to turn the direction of your life 180 degrees.

What’s even more fascinating is the artistry God demonstrates in our perception of time.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11

I’m currently listening to the song “Brokenness Aside” by All Sons & Daughters. The chorus resounds with the truth that He, as our Savior, takes “brokenness aside and [makes] it beautiful.”

The great thing about God’s artistic ability is that He isn’t restricted to our frame of reference we call time. He doesn’t need my body to be healed before He can work beauty out of the situation.

Also, he has put eternity into our hearts.

Eternity is defined as “the timeless state into which the soul passes at a person’s death.” In her book Whispers of Hope, Beth Moore claims that “eternal ‘life’ doesn’t begin when we die. It began the moment we were reborn.” What a beautiful notion–eternity isn’t restricted to my timeframe. It begins when I surrender control of my life to the only one worthy. This is when true life begins.

Even so, we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

C.S. Lewis notes the importance of meditating on the God who exists outside of time: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

My church just completed a sermon series on “the hereafter,” including most recently a sermon on the New Heaven and New Earth. Beyond the promise of a resurrected body and an end to the cause for tears, the passages we explored in the book of Revelation promise me endless direct access to the God who created time, as both Alpha and Omega. These passages directed my eyes upward. I’m realizing that this is exactly where my gaze needs to be fixed, especially right now.

Christ’s death and resurrection affect my life daily by context for today. Today is not where  I first encountered Christ; I’ve progressed in my faith since then. Today is also not the end. I have a future. I have a hope. And this hope is located beyond today. Beyond the pain I feel today. Beyond the disappointments and isolation and dread of inevitable pain tomorrow. This hope is accompanied by a peace that surpasses understanding, which allows me to get through this today, followed by the next and the next. One day I’ll look back on this season of life and praise God not only for the beauty He’s making of the situation, but also the sustaining hope of spending “timelessness” in His presence.

Hope for the future makes today’s suffering bearable.