Four years and counting.
That is how long I have been struggling with chronic and crippling back pain. Did my clueless and naïve college self ever think this would be my life now? Never in a million years. I was just telling a friend the other day, “Remember when we were freshman in college and didn’t have a care in the world and lived a relatively pain-free life?!?”
Unfortunately, those days are long gone.
To be frank, I don’t even remember what it feels like to be “pain-free” anymore. I don’t remember how to think about sitting in a car, getting up from bed, taking a shower, going to work, going to the store, or doing normal everyday activities without having the very next thought be, “How can I make this less painful for my back?”
As I write this I am laying in a hotel room in the middle of Indiana recovering from yet another invasive medical procedure for my back that left me with spinal headaches, intense pain and nausea. A procedure that confirmed I am definitely going to be needing another major back surgery... in less than a month.
I told myself after my first back surgery I would never do it again.
And yet, here we are.
Despite all of that,
I feel like I have finally made it to the point in my pain journey where I can honestly say, back pain has changed me...for the better.
This past month has been one of the hardest months of pain. I have cried the most tears and have felt the most fear, but there is one hard earned truth that I have learned through it all:
My utter desperation for Jesus has produced some of the deepest moments of intimacy with Him I have ever known.
I know I may sound crazy to you. I don’t know where you are in life with your beliefs or what scars you bear that the weight this world can so intrusively leave.
You may even be thinking, “is this girl just one of those crazy naive Jesus followers who slaps 'nice sounding Biblical theories' onto pain and suffering because she has no other way to understand it?”
Look, I get it.
I have been there. Whatever you are thinking, I am so insanely thankful you are taking the time to enter into this space with me. Don’t throw the towel in on me just yet, ok?
Before back pain I didn’t live my life “needing” Jesus.
I knew Him, but I didn’t truly know Him. I was fine on my own.
And I am pretty sure most of America feels this way.
We have everything we could ever want at our fingertips… why would we ever need a Savior when we don’t even know we are in desperate need of saving?
Be careful what you stake your life on, my beloved friends.
From experience, I will be the first to admit if your life’s foundation is self-worth, self-gratification, self-protection and “independence,” you will crumble when suffering and pain come knocking on your door.
And trust me, they will definitely come knocking.
It surely isn’t the type of gentle knock you get from an adorable girl scout who is trying to sell her precious cookies... No. It is more of a “I AM HERE TO SMASH DOWN YOUR DOOR WITH ALL MY MIGHT WHILE I SCREAM ANGRILY IN YOUR FACE” kind of a knock.
But oh how gentle the Father is with His love.
Life as we know it today was never how He intended this world to be.
Pain and suffering were not His original design. There is a devil and he is so real and wants nothing more but to steal, kill and destroy our lives.
And I am so very sorry if you have ever thought or been told that “God caused death, suffering or pain to teach you a lesson.”
That just isn’t true.
You cannot equate a loving father to those things. My earthly father would never wish me to be in this much pain.
Through this journey, I have learned that God’s heart actually breaks when He sees His children in pain. That is why He sent His one and only SON to not only die on a cross, but to walk through every single type of suffering known to man before He died.
He had to.
Or else Jesus would have been an un-relatable, far off Savior. And nobody can get down with that.
So how do We find Jesus in pain and suffering?
In the Bible, there was this crazy guy named Paul who wrote about the need for rejoicing in suffering. (I told you he was crazy.)
Here is the thing though, he didn’t just say that because it sounded nice in theory. He experienced it in ways most of us will never experience.
The guy was beaten near death multiple times, shipwrecked, robbed, starved, and most likely beheaded. (It’s true. Read 2 Corinthians if you don’t believe me.)
And here I am daily thinking, “Hey guys? My back hurts.”
I mean WHAT.
Yet through all of that he comes out the other side telling people to REJOICE IN SUFFERING?! And that if we let it, suffering can produce endurance, character and HOPE?!
Um OK Paul. YOU REALLY ARE CRAZY.
But at this moment in my life, I think I can finally begin to understand WHY he took such desperate lengths to communicate that specific message to us.
(And just FYI-I have never been beaten, shipwrecked, robbed or starved.)
Suffering reminds you that you have nothing left to hold onto other than Jesus. Everything else will burn up in flames when the fire of suffering and pain come your way.
I know this because it happened to me.
Maybe you are reading this and you are in that exact place.
You have fought so hard on the battlefield of life but you have grown weary, tired and frustrated.
You have decided it is easier to just lie face down on the ground in defeat rather than try to get back up every morning and start all over.
Your soul feels crushed by the weight of depression, anxiety, pain, desperation or unanswered prayers.
My sweet friend, you have finally made it to one of the most beautiful places a human can ever be.
Truly. The fight is over and you feel like you have lost.
But I promise there is a heavenly aroma of victory headed your way.
Because here and now is when the Man with the nail-scarred hands is able to fully enter in.
The only One who can slowly and gently lift you up into His arms of endless love and strength.
The only One who is so excruciatingly familiar with suffering that He sweat actual blood before He stepped onto the cross.
And He looks at you, beloved, not with shame, anger, disappointment, failure, or bitterness. He sees you solely as beautiful, worthy, spotless and pure.
He has been patiently waiting to finally have you back in His arms, where you were always intended to belong.
And the best part?
He holds absolutely nothing against you, but instead, beckons you back with such tenderness, love and grace.
He takes what the devil intended to use to destroy your life and in turn, makes it the very thing that brings you back to His face. He promises to always bring good from suffering not through suffering. (Romans 8)
And yet, Jesus is the ultimate gentleman.
He will never ever force Himself into our lives unless we give Him our yes. He will never pick up our broken pieces unless we invite Him too.
The choice is up to us. Every single time.
When daily pain smacks me in the face, I can choose to lean into it and do whatever it takes to find Jesus in it, or I can choose to become numb, angry, bitter and stay there instead of learning to move through it with Him to the other side.
And hey-sometimes I need to feel those exact emotions to get back to Jesus. He isn’t scared of my emotions or lack of faith and I promise, He definitely isn’t scared of yours either.
So what will you choose?
One last final thought: suffering and pain cannot be fought alone.
I would have never made it this far in my journey had it not been for my family and my community fighting for me when I did not have the strength to take another step.
I have never in my life been so overwhelmed by the amount of people who have sent a kind text, songs or prayers to me when I needed it most.
Friends who have sent me food, brought over flowers, or watched movies with me, because I couldn’t get off the couch.
Sisters who have graciously lent their homes, beds, and un-interrupted attention when I needed a place to process, cry and rest my head.
Brothers who have have literally sacrificed entire days to drive me up to my appointments in Indiana because my leg pain was so severe I couldn’t do it alone.
Doctors who have gone to great lengths to get to the root of my pain.
Nurses who have cared so tenderly for me because I couldn’t take care of myself.
Hotel staff who have left gift baskets in my room and encouraging cards to put a smile on my face.
Parents who have lovingly poured out time, money, resources, sleep, prayers and strength through the entirety of my pain journey (and really, my whole life.)
My steadfast family who is a constant source of laughter, love, encouragement and chaos.
I have learned it takes a community to fight back pain. It takes a community to lean into suffering. It takes a community to run after Jesus. It takes a community to create safe spaces where you can question, cry, hurt and be angry.
And I am eternally grateful for the people that Jesus has brought into my life over the past four years who have helped me carry the weight of pain when it has been too great to carry alone.
I know that my journey with pain is far from being over. Surgery and all that it entails is a beast.
I honestly wrote this blog specifically to be a reminder to myself on the days when I am wondering how I will ever make it through. And maybe, you too have similar kind of days.
So with that, I will leave us both with some truths to speak over ourselves when we have nothing else left to say:
Beloved, YOU are not alone. YOU are braver than you think. CHOOSE the hard work of leaning into the pain and I promise, if you choose to seek His face, you will find His presence right next to you. Every. Single. Time.