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“My grace is sufficient”: praising God in the face of chronic back pain

“You’re too young to be in pain like this,” they tell me. I shrug and grin sadly. It doesn’t change that I have had chronic back and neck pain for the past six or seven years. I’m only 21.

In high school I went to the chiropractor about once a year for back pain. I thought this was normal, and maybe it was. Doctor Metzger was great, and I appreciated the adjustments he gave when my bones needed it. I also appreciated his honesty, jovial personality, and belief in natural medicine. But in college the pain intensified.

I remember lying in bed in Denver the summer after my freshman year, crying and praying that I could move my body in order to get up. My cousin Jonathan prayed for me from two time zones away, a bad chiropractor stole my money, and I wasn’t well enough to hike in the Rockies. Then sophomore year began.

I composed a mental list of friends who could massage well so I wouldn’t overburden one person when I desperately needed some relief. These student masseuses have been incredibly kind over the years, and I am deeply thankful to these friends. Yet even the most thorough massages would not be effective for long. At first they helped for a couple weeks, then a day or so, then only a few hours. Now they don’t do much at all except to provide very temporary relief and comforting physical touch.

The pain makes college more difficult since I spend all my energy controlling it, which hinders my learning in class and tires me out when it comes time to do homework. Praise the Lord that I have made it this far, with only a few months left until graduation! Although my back and neck issues have caused me to struggle, I am still on track to graduate. I know others whose diseases have set them behind or caused them to drop out of school.

About a year ago, I was in constant pain, and approximately once a week I would break down and not be able to walk, since the pain translated into a weakness in my extremities. I remember collapsing and sobbing in a pile of leaves after church one Sunday, unable to walk the quarter mile from church to the main campus building. Dry leaves served as my tissues, and after the tears had released enough tension in my back, I managed to walk home with multiple rest stops. Typically the pain would build back up over the course of a week until my next breakdown. The pain was usually worst on Sundays, which I understood as a spiritual attack.

This pain hindered not only my own body but also my work in Goma, DRC, this past summer. When I was too weak to teach English one day, I lay crying on a couch in the director’s office and then held my friend Clarice’s hand. My driver took me across Goma to search for medicine so I could prevent more breakdowns and work again.

The pain came to a climax in the first week of my senior year this past fall when I broke down four times in one week. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish college although I’d worked so hard to get to this point and God had shown himself so faithful to bring me there. I began going to doctors and having my friends carry my bags and support me physically as I walked.

I have learned to ask for help when I need it, for I cannot do everything on my own. I am weak on my own. But I am not alone, not with God’s Spirit in me and His people around me.

I’ve been to chiropractors in recent years, but they can’t offer an explanation and don’t do much to help my larger problem. X-rays say my bones are fine. Finally I went to an alternative doctor who confirmed that my problems aren’t structural but rather a conglomeration of internal issues that have built up over years and manifested especially in my shoulder and neck — viruses I’ve had since birth or gotten from a vaccine, strep in my shoulder, and so on. No wonder massages and chiropractic adjustments couldn’t fix me.

This doctor’s remedies have helped a great deal, allowing me to go even weeks without thinking about the pain, although my back would still be uncomfortable at times. What a gift! But a little after Christmas break, the pain started to worsen again. Two weeks ago, I had to stop six times on the four block walk from my house to the place where we had worship practice because I wasn’t strong enough to carry my guitar. I just kept praying, “Yesu, Yesu, Yesu,” taking strength in the name of Jesus.

When I arrived at worship practice, the pianist was playing “Because of Who You Are.” I asked her to keep playing piano, just keep playing, and I laid on the ground and cried. That afternoon I decided to praise God regardless of my pain. I told Him and my team that even if I suffer with this pain for the rest of my life, I will give Him glory and praise.

Since then, I have taken new joy in my suffering. Instead of neglecting God in my trials, I will turn to Him. He has shown himself to be mindful and good and gracious and faithful, and my life would be desolate without the hope Jesus gives. The Bible promises that God will make everything new, and I long for that restoration. Meanwhile, God has given me incredible friends to support me emotionally and help me in my physical need, people who pray for me, and people who can relate to me and guide me along. I am blessed.

I believe Jesus heals, and I’ve witnessed Him do it multiple times in multiple places from Goma to Wheaton. I don’t understand why he heals some people and not others or why some people are healed on the spot and others wait for years. In all this, I do know that His love is constant and faithful and sweet. And I will praise Him for all my days on this broken earth and in heaven where all things are made whole.

 

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Mu Kappa: a taste of Heaven

We sat around the pot of fufu, a handful of sisters. First we wet our fingers in our bowls of homemade peanut soup. Then, protected from sticky base we were about to share, we reached into the communal pot to tear off a piece of the doughy circle of boiled flour. Next we dipped the fufu in our peanut soup and placed it in our watering mouths. Oh satisfying West African food. We savored our first bites, remarkably silent for a brief moment before we continued our chatting and laughing, inquisitive and alive, together.

Meet Mu Kappa, summer edition: a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, making hilarious memories every Sunday evening. We’re joined primarily and ironically by the fact that we have such diverse experiences as third culture kids.

An extension of a group that meets during the school year, our Sunday dinner fellowship this summer was composed of missionary kids with bursting passports, biracial college students with double citizenship and a residence outside the United States and friends whose parents who do business overseas.

I’m an American from Connecticut, but with a belief in the connectedness of people, an interest in the world and all its beautiful and diverse cultures and a leading to live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I love spending time with these welcoming friends.

I am most filled with joy and laughter when I am with friends from Mu Kappa. I’m humbled by their open arms. We also support each other through celebrations and suffering. When we’re not laughing, snacking or going off on adventures, we share in each others’ struggles and lift each other up to our Heavenly Father. Last fall, we held prayer vigils for a friend whose family needed the Holy Spirit’s intervention. More recently, my Mu Kappa friends have distracted me when I was in physical pain. They also helped me with cooking and cleaning each week that I hosted the group. We’re family.

Mu Kappa is an extension of the global church. We come from Pacific islands most people have never heard of, South American jungles, Chinese cities, spiritually parched Europe and the 10-40 window. Korean Americans from Africa and China and the Middle East, Indians from Eastern Europe, European Americans from every region of the world—representing all corners of the earth, we come together to feast and share our stories. We worship and praise our marvelous Creator. We ask each other questions and care for each other deeply. We are the Body of Christ from around the world, a joyful and tight community composed of all nations, coming together at college to glorify God through our shared lives.

I’ve seen a sneak peak of Heaven.

Why Today Is the Greatest Day of My Life: Celebrating Faith

Today is the anniversary of the most life-changing day I’ve lived, and I hope you’ll allow me to tell you about it. Gather around, dear friends. Make yourselves comfortable, and brace yourselves for my testimony.

Fourteen years ago I was preparing to enter Kindergarten. I was a short, curly haired thing much like I am today, but I was a beaming child back, so I was a little shorter. I already loved words, and I was excited to go to school.

Fourteen years ago it was summer—July 2, 2001, to be precise. The sky by my house was its clear, summery self, and I stood underneath it, toeing the edge of our paved driveway. The glory of God was about to be manifest.

Fourteen years ago and 20 minutes away, my grandpa was in a coma in his house in Southington. It was the eve of his entrance into eternity.

Fourteen years ago my mom told me about eternity.

Fourteen years ago, having heard about Heaven and Hell and knowing I needed Jesus to save me from my sin, I gave my life to him. To put it succinctly, I became a Christian. The angels rejoiced in Heaven, and I ran to tell my parents about my newfound hope and joy—a continuing joy.

Why I’m Still A Christian

Fourteen years later, my faith hasn’t changed. I’ve been a Christian for 14 of my 19 years, nearly 75% of my life. That’s crazy! And it’s awesome! Let me tell you why:

  • I’ve seen God’s faithfulness at work as He continually provides the basic necessities in life for my family and me—practically literal daily bread. For example, just yesterday my financial aid package came though, and I was awarded an extra grant that will help enable me to keep attending college. Praise the Lord!
  • He has brought healing to my relationships and to my scarred heart, and I’ve seen him work forgiveness in fellow believers as well. I could write books about these stories if I could find the emotional energy, time, and proper words to capture them.
  • God has revealed his love, glory and power through people I know and people I’ve only just met. He’s given me peace through the prayers of my faith-full friends such as Magda this Tuesday, and He’s shown me his glory through people who don’t know him such as the man I met at the library last week. I want everyone to know God!
  • He has let me glimpse his justice, holiness, joy and Kingdom through my friends. I call to mind the Asian/Asian-American group at my college.
  • He has continually drawn me to him through his Word in the Bible and to me in person. He’s also directed my future in this manner. Y’all know I’m going to DRC soon. That’s all because God has prepared good works for me to do there for His glory. 🙂

God has used music and nature, people and stillness, to reveal himself to me. God is here, and I can’t even begin to explain how awesome He is. I’m eternally grateful to be the LORD’s—and I can say that completely honestly because I will dwell in his house forever. I have been reborn and adopted into his family! I will rejoice in Him always and keep pressing towards him.

Doesn’t he sound amazing?! Don’t stop reading, please. Let me share just a little more about my God!

Gains and Losses

We need God. To understate our situation, we’re a hot mess without him. We’re actually damned. We’re so broken that all the money, sex, music, social media, TV, friends, volunteering, time spent at work, success, awards, good grades, food, caffeine, sleeping pills, alcohol and weed can’t fix us. We’re not good enough for God. The only thing we are good for is Hell, which, by the way, is not the same as this earth. Hell is worse. There isn’t even any water to refresh the parched mouths there. Yet we deserve to die. We’re not good enough for God, so without him to save us, we have to be separated from him forever and placed in Hell.

Thankfully, God is merciful and loving, and he calls all of us broken, sinful, wicked and mediocre people to him. (Every one of us is all of those things without Christ, even the best of us.) We’re the tax collector that extorted money from the people. We’re the woman who couldn’t stay married or the one who slept around. We’re also the average-Joe destined to work a blue-collar job our whole lives. We’re all those people and more—the nobodies, really—but God looked at us and said, “Hey, I want you. I want you, Jared. I want you, Hala. I want you, Jessica and Donna and Ron. I’ll make a way for you to be with me, because you are my priceless treasure.”

Thus he sent Jesus Christ, prophesied as the Messiah called Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is God in flesh. He’s everything we’re not but can aim to imitate. He’s the ultimate example of humility and love, and we don’t deserve to know him, but he pursues us so hard that we can’t run away. His Spirit will work on those God has called until we’re so wrapped in God’s love that we can’t escape it. He’ll renew our spirits and change our hearts. He’ll give us hope and purpose both now and forever. If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will have eternal life, and we’ll lose ourselves and find God as we sing his praises with the angels someday: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

I’m so glad to be able to worship God now, and I’m elated to be with all my brothers and sisters in Christ someday. What a choir that will be! What a God I serve! He’s the most forgiving being I could ever know, and I’m so humbled by him.

I want you to know him too. I want you to rest in his love, to be sucked into his justice and mercy, to be awed by his righteousness, to be his. If you don’t know him yet, I pray that this day will mark an anniversary for you, too—the day God redeemed you from the pit and sealed you with his Spirit.

Feel free to contact me here if you want to chat about this or share your story.

Jesus is coming back soon, and while I’m thrilled for that day, my heart is breaking for those of you who aren’t. I want to go to Heaven with you; I don’t want you to live apart from him. I want to praise God with you; God deserves it. He’s worthy of all the praise he can get. Will you surrender your praise to Jesus today?

A Story of Healing

Dear readers, I need to tell you a story of God’s healing. It is not a new story, for it happened last semester, but I want to share it with you so that God can be glorified by more people than just my immediate friends who knew about it when it occurred.

In the fall, my wrist began to hurt badly. When the pain began, my roommate prayed over me. As soon as she was done, she asked if it was better. It was not. It swelled and throbbed.

After a few days, I went to the nurse at Student Health Services because the pain was growing worse. While it wasn’t sharp pain, it was the kind that never left. I couldn’t write for long or play piano, and the pain nearly brought me to tears.

The nurse gave me a wrist wrap and told me to ice the area and take anti-inflammatory pain relievers. She said it was tendonitis and had probably ensued from having so much typing to do and not placing my wrists on the laptop keyboard ergonomically. She recommended buying a pad upon which to rest my wrists as I worked on my computer.

I wrapped my wrist, iced it on and off for days, borrowed a friend’s brace, and leaned my wrists on some rolled up cloth when I typed. Despite these things, I still had to take many breaks while I did my homework, and while the brace was helpful, the pain remained.

About a week after my wrist pain began, I had to help lead worship for a Bible study and for bro-sis worship afterwards. I was supposed to play guitar and sing that Wednesday night, but I was still quite injured and could not play guitar. After praying that someone would be able to replace my guitar position, I bumped into a girl from my sister floor who knew someone who could help at bro-sis worship. Thanks be to our God who hears our prayers!

Another friend covered my guitar part for the first half of Bible study, and we made do with just the piano when she had to leave. When we arrived at a song we hadn’t practiced together, I took over on piano, despite my injured wrist. It still hurt. My friend Wes resumed his place at the piano afterwards, and I went back to leading the vocals.

While I was singing, God told me to lift up my hand. I obeyed, and suspecting something miraculous had just happened, I tested it out, moving my wrist around and using it to do normal things that had hurt me mere minutes before. God had indeed healed my wrist!

I was astounded and grateful  to God for this, but I couldn’t figure out why He had healed me.

I wrestle with the thought of healing, for I know that God can and does heal, but I also think that some people want to be healed for every little thing and may end up missing Jesus in the healing. Furthermore, I know that God is sometimes glorified more when people are not healed than if He had physically healed them. An example of this is David McClain, a man who has lived with ALS longer than he “should” have and who has joyously spread the Gospel through his suffering. I do not believe God will always heal those who pray, nor should he. Our eyes must be joyously focused on Jesus regardless of physical pain or healing.

I question what the purpose of healing is. Multiple people in the Bible were healed by faith, and Jesus forgave their sins before announcing their healing. Others followed Jesus after He healed them. This makes it seems as if He heals so that people will come to Him. However, Jesus also had compassion on the crowds and healed thousands of sick people, and they did not all believe Him to be the Messiah. So what was the purpose?

Perhaps He healed these people out of pure love in the face of human sin and rebellion. This foreshadows the Gospel story: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ [Jesus] died for us” (Romans 5:8). Isn’t it beautiful? God makes His glory known in ways that we cannot understand, yet I love catching glimpses of it.

Another Scripture passage dealing with healing is found in the book of James. It can be found towards the end in the section devoted to prayer. This passage has furthered my curiosity about the purpose of healing. Please note that I’m purposely leaving out the reference so that you might read the entirety of the short book and discover its full message.

I know that God heals. His healing me filled me with awe and wonder and praise for Him.

After pondering why God healed me, I came to the conclusion that God healed me just to show that He could. I’ll repeat that: The only reason I could ascertain about my healing was that God healed me just to show that He could. Saying this brings me joy: I serve a God who heals! He is all-mighty, He does care for His people immensely, and He is always wonderful and worthy of our praise.

I serve the God who heals.