“You are the youngest back surgery patient we have ever seen. And let me get this straight, you just had your second fusion last week?!”
I wish I could say that this was the first time I have ever heard those words from a doctor or people in general. But unfortunately, it isn’t.
You know those times in life where nothing seems to make sense in the moment but then the further you get away; the more pieces of the puzzle start to fall together?
That has been my whole journey with back pain.
My five years of chronic pain have been the most trying, enduring, challenging, and messy years of my entire life. And I am only 25 years-old.
I had a dear friend tell me earlier this week, “You are wise beyond your years, sister. I am always amazed by what comes out of your mouth.”
In hearing that, I am always so humbled and reminded that it was pain that forced me to grow up quicker than I ever wanted to. Isn't it funny how something that can bring us so much grief and hell can in turn, be one of life’s greatest teachers?
You guys, I made it through my second major lower back surgery.
I would love to say it all happened with “flying colors” but that just isn’t how my body likes to do things. Of course there were many complications, tears, frustrations, and catheters. Lots and lots of damn catheters.
It’s almost like I get inside a hospital and my body just decides to freeze up and stop working all together. This is the third time I have been sent home with a catheter post hospital stay… and let me tell you guys.. I am now a pro at navigating those waters.
Definitely not the type of thing I thought I would ever be a “pro” at during my 25th year of life… ugh. But alas, such is life and learning to let go of any and all expectations of what I thought my life would look like by now.
That should really be a class taught in grade school: “Life Never Ever Goes As Planned.” (I would like to think I would get an A+ in that class by now, too.)
Despite all of that, Do you know what were absolute miracles during my week-long stay at the hospital?
My surgeon, my nurses, the staff, the cleaning crew, even the incredible cooks who made my meals from scratch and came in three times a day to ask what both me and my family wanted to eat.
Of course being on so many heavy meds, I surely don’t remember every conversation I had (OR crazy texts I sent… sorry friends and family. Those drugs truly are the real deal.) but what I do remember is how those people made me feel every single time they interacted with me.
I remember each nurse listening to me and advocating for me. I remember thinking every time they left my room, “Is this really heaven on earth?”
It felt as if God had wrapped His entire arms around this tiny surgical hospital in the warmest and most loving bear hug. I truly cannot begin to tell you all the tiny miracles that happened in the midst of one of the hardest weeks of my life… but I promise it would be an entire book’s worth.
I came home and wrote down as much as I could remember because I just didn’t want to miss it. I didn’t want to miss what Jesus did in the midst of horrendous pain and having to walk through a second surgery. Something I said I would never ever do again.
All I know is that if I get to heaven one day and see all those people there as angels... I wouldn’t be surprised. Unity Surgical & Medical Hospital… my entire life is owed to you. Thank you for caring so deeply about me as a person and truly giving me excellence and love in all you do.
By the way, my miracle surgeon felt so great about how everything went. He said there was a lot of inflammation and nerve compression in my back and he could see why I was in so much pain. He was honestly amazed I had made it this far with no pain meds. And I can honestly say, that is only Jesus, y’all. And sometimes a good glass of whiskey. ;)
But DO you ALSO know what felt like complete hell post-surgery?
The week I was finally able to go home.
The moment I walked through my parent’s doors after a long drive home in the dark, I lost it. I wanted to turn right back around and drive the almost two hours back to my new family I had just spent a week with.
I didn’t want to do this again. Deep down in my soul I remembered how hard it was to actually learn how to walk again and my body seemed to be saying, “NOPE. SORRY. We already did this once. Not doing it again.”
And thus began the hardest week of my five-year journey to date.
Surgery honestly felt like a breeze compared to this week. On the side of medication bottles, they say all these really intense side effects, even really strange ones that maybe only 0.1% of the population get. Somehow, I am and always have been that 0.1%.
It was a week of nonstop nausea, complications with medications, my catheter and pain. Lots and lots of pain. I don’t think George, my new walker, really fancied me in any way, shape or form, considering the number of times I ran him into things or knocked things over because of him.
We are definitely still working on our relationship.
Also yes I know… a 25-year-old tall girl who on normal days has a hard time being “graceful” is now required to use a walker at all times, wear knee high white ted-hose and a back brace.
Trust me when I say, we are quite the sight. Add in the catheter and we are basically competing for a spot in “America’s Next Top Model.”
I can joke about it all now but guys, this was week hard.
Every night when it was time to go to bed, I lost it. Truly lost it, just ask my parents. I would sob thinking, “But I don’t want to go to bed because that means I am going to have to wake up and do it all over again.”
The reality is I had too. I didn’t have an option.
No amount of tears or anger could take that away. And I SURELY wasn’t ready to talk to Jesus about any of it. I was like a small child, throwing a tamper-tantrum in the middle of Walmart because she doesn’t get the lollipop she thinks she deserves.
And that’s how I felt. I was angry, mad, frustrated, sad and tired of having to have a “positive attitude” about it all. I was tired of having to be away from my friends, my job, my pursuit of music and my home in Nashville. I was just plain tired of having this pain continually attached to me for five insanely long years with no given or guaranteed “end in sight.”
Here is where the good news comes in all of that. Something I can say, feel and know with so much confidence:
25-year-old Grace is not 22-year-old Grace.
During my first surgery, I felt all of those same things but never let myself feel them. I didn't know how to. I tried to be strong for me and everyone else around me and guess what guys?
It landed me back at surgery number two because I didn’t give myself the proper time to heal.
I am learning to walk again and I do not mean just in terms of my back.
I am learning to feel emotions and let them out instead of harboring them and becoming bitter and angry.
I am learning how to ask for help instead of trying to do it all on my own.
I am learning how to joyfully receive that help when it is given instead of ignoring it and thinking my way is better.
I am learning how to ask for forgiveness quickly when I say something harsh because I have once again, let my pain rule my mouth.
And I know that I am truly a child right now in terms of my physical needs.
My parents and my sister do literally everything for me… cooking, cleaning, showering me, walking me...my dear, sweet, sweet older sister, Cait, has even taken it upon herself to shave my legs…so I can feel somewhat normal again.
I am telling you guys. They go the whole 9 yards. The new running joke in our family is asking, “Whose turn is it to walk Grace?"
(PS: I know that in heaven, my sister is going to get an extra special award for the way she has so graciously loved me through this process. Right down to the very shaving of each and every of my leg hairs. THAT, y’all, is the real deal. She truly is the real deal.)
DURING these few weeks, I KNOW I resisted Jesus. But He didn’t resist me.
He knew I wasn’t ready to talk to Him so He sent my parents to read scripture over me at night, my sister to care so tenderly for me and listen to all my fears, my friends to intercede on my behalf when I had nothing else left to say or pray, and the hospital staff to care for me like I was one of their own children.
In learning to walk again, I have learned you sometimes have to let your community do the walking for you.
I have learned it is often a joy to let others serve you. Every time I resist when someone or something is offered to me, it is like a slap in their face, a sort-of “I don’t need you.”
My dad and I have started to take daily walks around our driveway.
I use a cane in my right hand and hold his arm with my left.
(Sylvia, if you are reading this… SORRY to break the rules again and please don’t tell doctor I am not always using my walker outside….)
We take very slow, monotonous steps. One lap takes probably ten minutes and we have made it up to three.
You know what my dad has never one said? “Hurry up Grace. I have things to do.”
His steadiness, his tenderness, and his consistency let me know that I can lean on him and can trust that he will get me through the entirety of the walk without falling.
But if my dad never let’s go, if in a few weeks, he doesn’t let me try it on my own.. I will never step into the full version of Grace. I will keep hanging on for dear life and never want to leave his side.
A good parent doesn’t parent their child to fully depend on them. A good parent walks with, teaches (and sometimes re-teaches.. and then re-teaches.. with lots of discipline and time-outs) and then let’s go and trusts the process.
They trust their child learned all they needed to and trust that when they fall, they will know who will be the one to reach down and gently help pull them back up.
I think this is a lot of what walking with Jesus is like.
Sometimes He is right by our side, so present and real. We feel, see, taste and know that He is there.
And then sometimes He let’s go and says, “I am here and I will be here the whole time. You have tasted, seen and known me… but now comes the time for you to step out and be who I made you to be and trust that I have laid out the perfect path for you, even though you may not always understand. Even though it will hurt. Even though there will be pain. Trust, I am in it all.”
I believe it is why Jesus went to heaven and left the disciples on their own.
They had to “learn to walk again” without Him.
Jesus knew if He continually held their hands and stayed on earth… they would never ever want to get out of the boat. They would never ever put into practice what He taught them while He was with them.
I have often heard parents say, “once a parent always a parent.”
I can see that now in learning to walk again. My parents will always be my parents. I will always be their child… no matter how old I get. When I stumble and fall, I know I can always call on my parents and they will be there. I wouldn’t have made it through this process again without them.
Right now, it feels like I am leaning so hard on my family, friends, and community to take the first lap around the driveway.
As if I would actually crumble if they moved even an inch away.
I think Jesus knows that.
And I think He delights in the fact that He is using people to help carry me through.
But I also know in learning to walk, soon enough, it will be time for me to let go. It will be time for me to step out of the boat again, with a new back, a new perspective, and hopefully deeper spiritual roots in my ultimate Father.
I never thought, in a million years, it would take two back surgeries to finally get me to my knees in letting go and truly letting God.
And I don’t want to miss out on this process of being a child again. I don’t want to miss truly being intentional with my family and friends while I have this glorious but painful time off.
I don’t want to miss what Jesus is trying to teach me in “RESTING” because I am distracted by my “DOING.”
One of my favorite parts of being home is that every night, my dad reads out loud to me passages from the Bible while I lay down, close my eyes and just listen.
You know how this started?
It was because of those massive meltdowns I had every night before bed. The only things that seemed to calm me down was when my parents read scripture out loud and prayed over me.
Both my parents and I knew, right now in this season, I could do neither of those on my own. So without a word spoken between us, they have graciously became Jesus’ voice to me every night until I am ready to hear it again on my own.
We are currently reading through Esther. In classic Gary Theisen fashion… the “reading” is more like commentating and explaining to me and my millions of questions of "What the Hebrew word for this really means?” and "Why was that one particular Hebrew tradition so important to that specific verse?”… And I obviously remember all of the details. ;)
Isn’t that just like our Heavenly Father though?
He sings and speaks truth over us when we cannot. He teaches and nurtures us when we need it… then launches us off when we are ready again.
Learning to walk again is surely no cake walk.
Pun intended. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world right now. Truly, I wouldn’t.
I am learning to see everything through such different eyes. Eyes that are filled with more humility, kindness, intentionality and love.
Eyes that realize while pain was never His original plan for this earth, we are not entitled to live without it.
Eyes that see how when we let it, pain can truly be the greatest teacher.
Eyes that realize that life is short and because of that, forgiveness should always be quick to extend, anger should always be quick to dissipate and loving words should never ever go unspoken.
I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I am ok with that. I have a new, deep-rooted trust that He does. And that is all that matters.