Confession time: I have squandered the majority of this year.
Not in the mom-guilt, I-should’ve-done-more-with-my-kids sort of way (though there have been plenty of internal battles about that, I assure you).
I look back at the last several months, filled with some of my most challenging times as a mother thus far, and realize now what I wasted was my perspective.
It’s taken a long time to write about what’s been going on lately, but not for lack of trying. I have started and stopped dozens of attempts in my head. Truth is, I couldn’t write. I didn’t have it in me, mentally or physically. Which only added to my personal frustrations. A writer who can’t write is like a caged animal, repressed and tortured.
It was back in December when the first signs surfaced that something was wrong. By January, things had gotten so bad that I picked up the phone to make an appointment with my doctor.
I wasn’t myself. I woke each day with pressure headaches, some so severe that I couldn’t leave my bed all day, and my migraine medicine wouldn’t touch them. I was shaky despite constantly eating. My arms ached as if I had moved heavy boxes for hours. I had no energy. At times, I was nauseous and dizzy. I struggled to think clearly, and I was irritationally irritable (and irritable is a kind way of putting it).
Since I was only about four months postpartum, I thought it was most likely something askew with my hormones. My primary doctor initially agreed and thought I may start feeling better the further out I got from my pregnancy. Nevertheless, he ordered a full panel of blood tests, acknowledging that my symptoms were not normal.
Those results were the start of my seemingly endless quest for answers. Soon, my calendar filled with appointments, tests, and specialist visits. By this point, it was April, and I was not feeling any better. In fact, I was worse. I’ve had migraines since I was 12, and these were not anything like my “normal” migraines–nothing seemed to help them, and they felt very different. My doctor sent me to the ER for one headache that lasted over two days, where I received the generic diagnosis of “complex migraine” and heavy painkillers to get through the worst of it. He also ordered an MRI.
He called with results the day after I had it to tell me that it showed what was thought to be a cyst about the size of a penny, deep in the middle of my brain, and due to its size in that area, it could be the source of my headaches. After a disappointing visit to a neurologist who clearly didn’t know much about them, he referred me to one of the top neurosurgeons in our area.
It felt a bit ominous walking down a long, dark corridor in what must be one of the oldest sections of the hospital to the office of a man who cuts into people’s brains for a living. David and I listened as he explained that the MRI I had did not show enough views of the area, and he couldn’t say with certainty if the mass was solid or cystic. I tried my best to follow along as he shared how if additional imaging showed solid portions, I would need to have a lumbar puncture to see if it was secreting any hormonal markers to better tell what type of tumor it was and that radiation was usually the first course of treatment for tumors in this difficult-to-reach location. Surgery, he warned, would bring many risks due to its “delicate” location, as he put it–but he said sometimes surgery is necessary.
My new MRI was set for 9:30 p.m. the Wednesday before the long Fourth of July weekend. I asked the tech to stream my favorite Pandora station, and I breathed in deeply as comforting words of Truth filled the tube as the machine began its work.
“Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side …”
The hours between the MRI and the call from my doctor seemed to infinitely suspend in time. I think waiting to hear important news you know is coming, especially related to health, is one of the hardest things for the human mind to process. You try not to think about it–yet then you only think about it more. I can honestly say I did not fear the outcome, but that did not stop the screams of “I JUST WANT TO KNOW!” pounding inside my head.
The radiologist and neurosurgeon agreed: the lesion inside my head was fluid-filled.
However, the neurosurgeon went on to say, this could still be the source of my headaches, and there are times when even a cyst of this size and in this location can pose life-threatening symptoms, and sometimes surgery is still required. So he told me what to watch for, and he ordered a new MRI in six months to check for any changes.
So now, I return to waiting.
And it’s in this twisted journey of waiting wrapped in pain where I recently realized all that I’ve wasted over the past nine months.
Yes, I’ve not been my normal self.
Yes, I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like.
It dawned on me though that during this time, my singular focus has been on “when this is over, then I can …” and “when I feel better, then I will …” and nothing else. The light at the end of the tunnel. The sure diagnosis. The treatment that will eliminate the pain. The capability to pick life back up where I left it.
But what if the “when this is over” never comes?
And how will I account for my time spent?
I have been waiting for my “life” to start again, but, I realized, I am living my life right now.
A few weeks ago, I downloaded a copy of a book written by my college friend, an award-winning journalist turned pastor, released earlier this year. “I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments,” by John S. Dickerson, answers the questions of “why does God allow bad things to happen?” and “where is God during my pain?” by chronicling the journey of the apostle Paul and his “thorn in the flesh,” and through John’s own discovery of Truth as he deals with debilitating, stroke-like migraines.
Though Scripture never tells us what exactly the “thorn” was that afflicted Paul, a missionary dedicated to telling people about Christ despite many obstacles, we know it was awful enough that he begged God to take it away three separate times. And the answer God gave this man who poured his whole life into serving Him was “No.”
“No,” it is My will that you function with this pain.
“No,” it is My will that you serve Me with this pain.
“No,” it is My will that I have more good for you than you can imagine with this pain.
It was not with cruelty that God gave this answer; it was with a loving care that an all-knowing Power provides. It doesn’t make sense to us, but He sees how He could use His infinite strength to do more with our weakness than we could ever do without it, if we allow Him.
As I digested this Truth, I realized God’s will for my life doesn’t pick back up again with a yet-to-be-determined start date in the future that is free from pain. God’s will is to use my surrendered pain to complete His perfect work in me.
And when surrendered, I will accomplish more for eternal good through Him.
Over the months of pain, especially on the days when I had no ability to get out of bed, I had been so consumed by the thoughts of how I wasn’t doing enough with my girls, how I had nothing left for my husband, how I couldn’t serve at my church the way I wanted to, and how I was prevented from fulfilling my personal hopes and dreams. And I was missing it.
It wasn’t recovery I needed to be able to be fulfilled and joyful and satisfied again.
It was a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. It was a surrendering of self to trust that God knows better than I do. That it is part of my journey, not something to get past.
It was the realization that, as John writes, my “greatest contribution in life may result from [my] greatest pain or weakness, surrendered.”
I was telling a friend recently how I know through experience and God’s promises in His Word that He uses the challenges and trials in my life for His good. I have seen it, time and time again. And yet, for some reason, I still find myself kicking and screaming when pushed down a painful path. When I could be allowing myself to be picked up and carried by Him.
This morning–a “good” day health-wise–my eldest daughter and I were dancing and running around to music, and my younger daughter was crawling around as fast as she could, desperately trying to keep up. I noticed her frantic attempts to join in on our fun, so I reached down and scooped her up. She squealed as I bounced her on my hip, a smile stretched across her face as we zoomed through the house. In my arms, she found abundant joy.
It wasn’t that all of a sudden she was physically able to fly past her own limits. It was that, in my arms, she could.
In our Father’s arms, whatever our pain, we can too. His strength can lift us up.
I don’t know how many reminders it will take for me to keep my focus fixed on Him when the days here on Earth get tough, instead of when the painful part of this journey will end. Because I know I have hope and assurance that it WILL indeed end, dropping me off in the arms of my loving Savior. And it should be my goal to spend this ever-so-brief time in the dark pursuing Him in a way that when I see Him, and He pulls me tightly in to His secure embrace, He whispers gently in my ear, “Well done.”
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)