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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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The Silliness of Fear

Image photo credit: http://www.rachelleb.com/images/2004_03_11/wrigley_field.jpg

“I can’t believe we used to walk around the neighborhood without pepper spray,” my friend said the other day before we took a stroll through the quiet streets by her house. I thought to myself that I go to Chicago unarmed at night and am safe. Apparently people had been stabbed in her neighborhood previously, but I was unaware that any danger existed.

Pepper spray, cell phones, pocket knives–people use these to “defend” themselves against unseen, potential dangers.

Disheveled strangers with cigarettes, the city, travelling to other countries, unkempt lawns and houses in need of paint, the dark, snarling hounds, mysterious animals in your backyard–people are afraid of these things. They legitimately worry instead of taking these things as normal and trusting God in the simple areas of life.

Why are people so afraid? I trust God.

I have talked to hustlers, male parking lot attendants, and even a murderer–all strangers at first, and I have been unafraid and unharmed. I carried no weapons to defend myself, for of what should I be afraid? What can man do to me?

If I should die, I would go to be with Jesus. It would be glorious! I’ll admit that I’d be terrified in the moment, but I like to think that I would evangelize to my murderer before my death. Proclaiming Jesus and His Kingdom is the purpose of my being alive, after all.

Regardless, I do like the buddy system. I feel safer in the city at night when I’m with a male friend. One of my friends from college walks alone on her way from McDonalds to a Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville on Friday nights, visits her homeless friend Linwood, and is unharmed. Is it wise for a woman to walk alone through the city at night? Maybe not, but she adores Jesus and trusts Him in everything. And she is safe. Am I fearful or wise in following the buddy system?

Sharing the Gospel in pairs is Biblical; thus, I believe the buddy system is wise. By going in pairs, you can help each other share the Gospel clearly and effectively. I truly believe prayer is sufficient for self defense.

When did Jesus’ disciples ever physically lash out at others to protect each other? Peter did once in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Jesus halted him and healed the man whose ear he had cut off.

Other apostles and disciples took abuse for the sake of Christ. When stoned, did they throw stones back? No. When whipped, did they use pepper spray and try to run away? No. When people spat on Jesus, stripped the flesh off his back, dug thorns into his scalp, and nailed his soft wrists to a tree, did he attempt to stop them or even make a retort? No, he suffered so that God’s glory might be made manifest through the ensuing salvation he brought.

Thus, in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, “defending” oneself is unnecessary. When we fear, we do not trust God.

Why do we fear? It seems silly to worry about our personal safety when we have Jesus, our God, to proclaim. God is our protector, too. As Psalm 118:6 says in ESV and as Hebrews 13:6 repeats, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Fellow believers, I beg you to be bold in living out your faith. “(W)e are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV).

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.