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.”