In Pain and Providence

Everything happens for a reason. 

These words cut into me as deeply as the pain I felt in my back, but sliced into soul instead of skin. “Okay, you got me,” I thought. I fantasized about switching places with the bearer of ill-communicated words of God’s providence. The pain overrode my response and kindly kept my mouth shut.

I had spent the better part of the previous week preparing for a trip away with Micah. He and I don’t get away alone very often. And when we do, there is so much planning that goes into it. Making sure our five left at home are covered as well as whomever is kind enough to come spend days with them, taking on the pressures of their care and schedule, is a days-long process.

There was so much to consider, plan, and prepare. Yet, come the morning we were to leave, everything was done. The biggest problem on my mind was the over-packing of heavy books I had done in the excitement of having some extra reading and writing time. I had spent a few minutes feeling relief, even journaling a few notes of thankfulness. I had one errand to run, and with a short flight delay, there was plenty of time to get it accomplished before heading to sunny Florida.

That morning, there was a school delay. Even as sleet had affected roads the night before, it seemed largely inconsequential compared to the sum of the life-negotiations I had finally ceased navigating. Buses were still running. Schools gave extra time but did not close. I gathered several items in my arms, including my purse prepared with traveling necessities, and headed out. I opened and closed the front door without a pause in my movement thinking only of the last task before the trip.

My next thoughts were, “What is happening. I am falling. There is nothing I can do.” It seemed to last a long time— the falling down part, even though it was only a couple of seconds at most. Because my hands were full, I didn’t get them behind me. I was quite sure I had hit the concrete stairs, but I couldn’t tell exactly what was injured, at first. As I fell, I somehow yelled for Micah who was just inside the door. I didn’t think he had heard me, so I raised my phone, already in my hand, and tried to activate it. I knew something was awry and I needed help. As my husband barreled out the door toward me, sliding too and landing to my right, I tried to turn and help him. My body wouldn’t comply. It took him a minute to shake off his injuries.

Now, I have watched funny videos enough to know that if you had been a house or two down watching this craziness, it might be reasonable to snicker at what appeared to be a pile-up of people at the mercy of icy stairs. I saw the viral video of the jogger who bragged and busted it on live news in 2014 and while I hoped the poor gal wasn’t seriously injured, I laughed. It was funny. The trampoline, piñata, “watch this” people who have walked away with $$$$ for their pain know, as much as it hurts, our mistakes sometimes induce the best laughs.

Speaking of mistakes, I have never wanted so badly to go back just a few minutes and consider for just a second the fact that icy weather conditions equal slick stairs. I had a lot of time to desire a do-over in my desperate situation. I was immobile. Micah tried to get me up but it just wasn’t happening. My back had gone into some kind of spasm. The pain oozed in and had taken over. He tried again to lift me. Nope. So he called an ambulance.

I had 10-15 minutes of laying in the sleet on the concrete landing before they came. I had 1,000 thoughts. The overriding one orbited around the feeling that I just couldn’t believe this was happening. And what had I done? What in the world hurt so bad that I couldn’t move? And— would I even be able to move?

The next hours were full of pain… so much pain, particularly as the ambulance bumped and swerved its way to the hospital in terrible traffic, then as the medical professionals moved me from board to stretcher, stretcher to ER bed, bed to CT, back to bed, bed to X-ray, back to bed. Coats and clothing had to be maneuvered. Every movement was excruciating. I cried a lot.

In the midst, enter lady with the untimely truth.

Sometimes, we are untimely with our words.

We are so uncomfortable entering into suffering, sometimes (shall I say many times if we are brave?) even our own. We want to smooth things over, even with holy things. But what if the pain is just as holy? What if this road, the way of the cross, is the one we absolutely cannot avoid? And we stay on it all the way until we meet the day we arrive at our physical end? Then and only then do we awaken in complete, never-going-back, whole resurrection. What if the suffering, both physical and spiritual, ushers in truths that shine a spotlight full-on the state of our bodies and souls and is what brings us to God?

This is the way of the cross. It is the way of suffering.

Words that go around suffering feel more like weapons rather than truths that support space for all the real pain of this broken place. What is ironic is that my Providential, Sovereign God was with me every moment, not forcing unrealized redemption of as a way to anesthetize the suffering. The promise that it would come to an end— that Jesus came to defeat all that is hurt and pain and secured the promise of an eternity absent every bad thing (most importantly my own sin and rebellion)— was just as true unspoken as heard aloud every minute. It reached in in the cross and proved Immanuel once again. The Holy Spirit, Comforter prays for me. The One known as the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, now seated at the right hand of His Father, hears. He always has the ear of my Father. He ever-lives to intercede for me, as I writhe and cry, feel the limitations of a body, finite and frail, knowing how it felt to have bones that cracked and broke, flesh that was bruised and torn. He sees His scars and knows— being human hurts and He prays accordingly on my behalf.

He waited with me on the stairs. He was there with Micah as he made decisions and moved to care for me. He was all around when my consciousness was lost. He was there as the IV tore open my vein and as meds were administered that helped with the pain. He was there as the nurses attended and anticipated my needs. He was in the assessment and treatment given by a seasoned physician, knowing all that was wrong, even before the viewers of the scanning machines. He was there as I sat up for the first time, feeling the weight of the pain settle in muscles that would remind me of the injury even to this minute. He was behind and before as the Physical Therapist taught me to walk and climb and descend stairs. Every second of pain, every minute of question, every hour of recovery since… Never moving out of the discomfort but abiding with me in it, the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, was mine. Not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I have spent the last almost two weeks knowing what it means to have part of my spine break. It is astonishing the pain two fractures of the transverse process of one’s L1 vertebrae inflict. The bone is one thing— the muscles responding are another. I was fortunate to avoid worse injury and paralysis. I was fortunate to not have damage to organs. I have re-learned how to do things I haven’t thought about being able to do ever. My baby sister— the little one I was so proud to care for some as a baby, now grown with a baby of her own— came in to care for me this time. Before her, Micah’s parents kindly held down the fort. Folks have brought meals and flowers. I have received prayers and cards. I treasure them. I have come to appreciate well-honed skill of my Physical Therapist. I am making progress! I am so thankful that God brings temporary healing to shadow the hope of heaven. Micah and I have added a new season of knowing in a way that will be woven in the tapestry of our marriage forever. I am a dependent being, made more aware of all the outside-of-me help.

My eternal hope, and yours, is not that we always share truths in timely ways. God knows I have tried to avoid sharing in the sufferings of my friends and neighbors by forcing an over-realized eschatology instead of weeping with them in their very real pain. I do have a desire that I grow in bearing with one another well, loving as I have first been loved— but that is not my hope. It rests in the One who ever lives and pleads for me. Jesus lived a life marked with timely words uttered from human lips, emanating from His omniscience and perfect compassion, for me. He submitted to suffering and death for my sake. He rose again to bring the promise of resurrection— for me.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I don’t know the reasons why this happened. I suspect they are good ones. They don’t change how hard this has been and may be for a while. I may never know the whys. And that is okay.



Had I Not First Wept

I was so happy, I related to the popular phrase, Over the Moon. I felt weighty euphoria, then happy tears, accompanied by happy sobs. I paced around and around, back and forth, shook my head, and smiled one of those smiles that begins within the well of the soul. I felt relief— deep relief. And joy. Real, surprising joy.

All because my baby sister told me she is expecting.

I remember clearly when I was childless, navigating what seemed to be seas of pregnant women, beating myself up with, “rejoice with those who rejoice.” I was (and still am) so aware of the miracle of a life conceived, then born out into the world— so much that it physically, emotionally hurt. There were times I wanted to rejoice but the hurt in me was so deep. I could never only rejoice without weeping for me.

One of the fears I have had for many years is that my sisters would suffer the same difficulties I have had when it comes to childbearing. Genetic predisposition is not in their favor. My lot and portion in life made me the biggest cheerleader for her in the mommy department— which may seem kind of strange. When a woman has experienced the sadness of infertility and loss, she would rather the women she loves be spared the same suffering.

This announcement embodied so many good things. The Centerpiece of all the good things, my Creator God, has given us another life to love; another made in His image. But it also gave me a glimpse again of what He says about His pursuit of me~ about His love for me.

I wish I could say I have been thankful for the bitter cup that makes the honey sweet. I wish I could say that I pursue it and even ask for it. I might have said something to that effect, pre-suffering, when inexperience made me green and theory was a fantasy, not reality. I used to read the Bible differently, preemptively using scripture to plot the future. Post-suffering, when real life has taken over, the weight of the words sink deeper than is comfortable and is far less manageable. When confronted with frailty and pain, I have tried to pray the hurt away and asked for mercy when wounds are fresh. Yet all the while, God has moved me along and has remained with me. Even when I wasn’t sure. Even when I felt weak. In His moving me, though the path has included pain, I know I wouldn’t have rejoiced in this way, had I not first wept.

I am a fickle person. I don’t know what I don’t know. And I run from pain. I would much rather things be easy than hard. It is a good thing my life isn’t up to me. I try to enter into other’s stories and experience, but the real ~death to life~ change that affects a part of who I am is brought about within the crucible of suffering. It is suffering that imparts substance to joy. More specifically, coming to terms with who I really am, who Jesus is, and what that means for me.

The heart of the Gospel communicates that I don’t need a renovation, I need resurrection. And that is precisely what Jesus provides. When a bit of resurrection pierces this present suffering, joy breaks through. Because my life is hidden with Christ in God, the process is safe. And it is so encouraging when God gives me Gospel specificity in personal, meaningful situations. God is patient with me. Because Jesus always wept and rejoiced appropriately, I have as well all along, thanks be to God in Christ.

One of the most beautiful experiences of this saint/sinner, drawn in by God as a part of His story, is that the Bible begins to read me. David recalls the presence of the Lord in Psalm 30 at the dedication of the temple. He also contrasts his own insufficiency with what God has done and what is to come. I have always resonated with verses 5 and 11. While my circumstances are different, weeping is for a night, but joy comes in the morning; You have turned my mourning into dancing, You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. God has given me tastes of this truth, in so many ~But God~ ways. While my mornings  and night are still cyclical, they are temporary. One day the Son will be the Sun. And when light rules eternity, joy and dancing will be commonplace. I believe, Lord help my unbelief and continue to give me future hope.

I am an aunt again to another precious nephew. And I get to watch my baby sister, whose newborn frame forever changed my thirteen-year-old soul, mother her little boy. Hallelujah.