Friday, July 5, 2013

Balance Sheet {Three Years of Chronic Pain}


My goal is to know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. . . (Philippians 3:10, HCSB).

Three years ago this week, unexpected, mystifying chronic chest-wall pain knocked me off my feet. After a multitude of medical appointments and tests (and some weeping and gnashing of teeth), serious heart and lung issues were ruled out and the diagnosis of costochondritis was pronounced. This provided some psychological relief and opened the way to treat the "not serious, just pain" concern and begin the painfully slow--still incomplete--work of rebuilding strength lost in 6 months of complete or partial bed rest.

At that time no one, least of all I myself, expected that the issue would persist in three years' time, but it has. Perhaps I should say, no mortal expected it; God foreknew and granted permission, or this could not have touched my family and me. (This particular area of pain is much better controlled by medication than it was. Not gone, but ever so much improved.)

The realization last weekend of this imminent anniversary brought discouragement and tears. The losses loomed very large in my heart and mind, and there have been losses. No longer can I curl up in an overstuffed chair with a book in my hands: comfy chairs aren't comfy anymore; sitting "criss-cross applesauce" makes my joints cross; any book I read must be in my ears or on a stand at eye level. Long walks are a memory, too. I can no longer exercise in the manner, intensity, or frequency I prefer. My walking and travel difficulties affect my husband and family as least as much as they do me. Thankfully, I can do the dusting, dishes, and laundry now, which I could not in the first months of this adventure, but the rest of the "heavy cleaning" we hire in. Having someone else responsible for the cleaning sounds like a great idea until one has no other option. As it happens, I might have a few tiny issues with control and wanting things done the way I want them done.

The harder losses are the interpersonal ones. In the past three years, members of our families have suffered bereavements, major surgeries, a stroke, concussions, inadequate employment, moves, marital crisis, the unexpected and traumatic losses of two pastors and a pastor's son, two serious car wrecks, and more. My limitations have largely left me unable to render the practical help and support my loved ones have needed in these afflictions, and more than once they have also left Amore unable to render service to his family because I could not do without him at that point in time. This has humbled and grieved me.

This protracted trial has brought gains, too: a scar on my scalp, a dental implant, an assortment of orthopedic devices for foot and ankle, lists of medications and physicians double their previous length, survival of three rounds of physical therapy, four additional areas of chronic pain, and stretch marks on my soul and my marriage.

It has, however, brought other gains as well: a discovery that Christ in me is stronger than I thought He was, new admiration for Amore's commitment to serve me in worse and in sickness, much time with my mother the first two years and both parents in the third, and a number of new friends through the blog, my medical peregrinations, and the ladies' Bible study at the church down the road. This blog itself directly results from this season of illness, in fact.

We have also marveled at God's grace in relocating Amore to an utterly unsought job closer to our home mere months before his previous employer filed for bankruptcy and most of his friends there lost their positions. (We did not know this would happen when we decided about the new job.) Not only that, but He timed it in such a way that no break at all in insurance coverage occurred. We didn't have to pay COBRA for a single month, which has never happened to us in any previous job change.

We never really know what God's specific purpose for an individual is in a particular affliction, though we know that in general all is for His glory and the good of those who love Him. (The rub, of course, is that "good" in Romans 8:28-29 is defined as "conformity to the image of His Son," who was rejected, betrayed, mocked, scourged, and crucified. And resurrected. Let's not forget that.)

Over the last year, however, God's objectives in this particular discipline of pain have come into focus a wee bit. Three more gains or gifts I must record on the balance sheet are these:
  • An opportunity to begin to learn more humility by the frequent repetition of the words, "I can't do this. Will you please help me?" For me, asking (sometimes urgently) for prayer as well as offering it has also provided an opportunity to die to pride.

  • A stronger, deeper hunger for corporate worship and fellowship.

    Corporate worship and group gatherings for study or fellowship have often overwhelmed this shy introvert and drained more energy than they have given.  Six weeks of confinement to home and irregular ability to attend church for the following year have grown not just my commitment but my actual desire to worship in church with my brothers and sisters, to partake of the Lords' Supper as often as I may, and to learn with and from the sisters to whom God has connected me in Bible study.

    My core temperament has not changed. Sometimes my heart still races when I feel there's something I'm meant to say in Bible study discussion or in anticipation of a fellowship lunch, but I'm thankful to feel more hunger and taste more sweetness than previously in the foretaste of good things to come when we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we someday will in the fullness of the coming kingdom.

  • An opportunity to begin to learn perseverance after amassing an impressive lifetime resume of quitting when things get difficult or look like they will soon grow difficult.

    In some cases, quitting the thing in question seemed like the only right choice for ethical or relational reasons, but the fact remains that this is the longest, most arduous demand I've ever faced to persevere in what was not only difficult but impossible in my own strength.

    Many days joy and gratitude are a choice, sometimes one that costs some tears and a bit of a tantrum first. Steadfastness does not come naturally to me, possibly not to anyone, and I don't always immediately turn to the Spirit's ready resources to come to my aid.

    Many days I just want to get well, to be past this, to be on the other side of this season. That's not my choice to make, however. Amore and I are making the best choices we know to make as we seek God's wisdom and trust Him to give it. We are still pursuing medical help and support and following doctor's orders.

    Ultimately, it is the Lord who gives and who takes away; it is the Lord who heals and who withholds healing. Even if He healed my health concerns tomorrow, that healing would only be temporary. Even Lazarus died eventually. If He withholds healing for the rest of my earthly life, on the other hand, that withholding also is only temporary. In either case, true, permanent healing will only come when I receive my resurrection body.

    At the same time, the spiritual healing which God may use bodily illness to accomplish will endure. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, "God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves." No matter how I might wish it otherwise, He loves perseverance, hope, faith, and our joy in Him, not circumstances.
In the grand scheme of things, my afflictions of these last three years are small potatoes. I have not faced profound suffering or real persecution for the sake of Christ. Compared with that of my brothers and sisters in Uganda, Congo, Egypt, Syria, China, much of Southeast Asia, Haiti, Moore, Oklahoma, and West, Texas, even the worst times of the last three years look like a paper cut. That they have been so difficult for me reflects my frailties and need of God's grace, and I know that.

Even so, this is the testimony He is writing in me. It's the only one I have, and refusing to share it because others shine brighter does not honor Him. I almost hesitate to identify this season with "the fellowship of His sufferings," but if the Spirit of Christ dwells in me, He suffers with me, yes? Perhaps submitting to whatever sufferings He permits, offering them to Him in worship, and seeking Him in their midst is His appointed means for us to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. And the power of His resurrection.

And so I "raise my Ebenezer," my "stone of help." This far the Lord has helped me. "Here by Thy great help I've come; and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at Home." May the Lord do as He sees fit with me and mine, whether for healing or for ongoing, multiplying trials. He is good and does good; may I not forget that. His mercies endure forever. May He grant us all courage, steadfastness in faith, and love for Him who ordains our circumstances. May He use this testimony to bless and strengthen one weary soul who reads it. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.


Thanks be to God
for His great faithfulness
and unfailing love,
for His kind providences for me and mine,
for a day of true healing awaiting His children,
for my hard-working husband and his commitment,
for my supportive, giving family,
for glimpses of good things God is doing through the last three years.
(gratitude list, #916-922)



Linking up either very late or very early to the communities Ann and Laura host:
 

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