The Blessing of Pain

I’m sitting in my recliner right now, the warmth of a heating pad pressed against my back and hip. It’s a familiar scenario, one I’ve repeated countless times the last three years, after hip pain slowly began robbing me of the active life I had just begun to reclaim from ulcerative colitis. Ice packs have taken up permanent residence in the freezer, and nightly my nostrils are filled with the scent of the pain-relieving cream I rub on my aching joints. After Ava was born, I had a period of about 3 months where my hips did not bother me, and I rejoiced. Since then, however, the pain has crept back up. Pain has been a companion of mine, and while I once hoped and thought he would be a passing acquaintance, it seems that Pain would rather be my bosom buddy.

You might be wondering what pain has to do with blessing. I have wondered the same thing. I have prayed many prayers that the pain would leave, and I know my prayers have been joined by those of my family and friends. Yet God has not seen fit to release me from the pain, in spite of the various ways I have tried and tried to find an end to it. And while I have spent more than one day in tears, pleading with God to take away the pain, I have spent many other days thanking God that He has afflicted me, for the affliction has been for my good.

Pain reminds me daily that I am needy, that I am imperfect and dependent on others, and it is this neediness that sends me to Scripture and to prayer. Pain reminds me that this world is broken and makes me thankful for the Christ who will one day come and make all that is broken whole once more. Pain reminds me that though I am weak, Christ’s power is strong in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Pain reminds me that though my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26). Pain reminds me that though my outer self may be wasting away, God is renewing my inner self day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Pain reminds me that though sometimes I am sorrowful, the God of the universe has made note of every tear I’ve shed (Psalm 56:8), and one day He will wipe them all away (Revelation 21:4). He sees my pain, and He does not leave me alone in it. And on the days when the pain is less, I rejoice and give thanks for the reprieve and know that there are many for whom there is never a break from the pain.

If I were writing my story, I doubt I would have included pain as a chapter. But I am glad that my life is in the hands of One far wiser than I, for I have seen the way that pain has drawn me closer to God and revealed my sin and weakness. I am thankful that in God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted, not even pain.

“Pain is no measure of His faithfulness. He withholds no good thing from us.”

Sara Groves

 

Fight or Flight

I haven’t updated on my hips in a while, and for a while that’s because there wasn’t much to tell. My recovery was going well, my pain was manageable, and I felt really good about things. I last saw Dr. P for a check up on May 11, and he confirmed that I was doing great at 6 weeks post-op and that I should continue doing physical therapy. However, somewhere along the way since then, things have gotten worse. The pain started to creep up. I ignored it at first, thinking it was temporary. But then I started to have problems in physical therapy. I didn’t feel like my pain was getting any better, and any time the therapist tried to add new exercises, I struggled and had increased pain. This week my therapist actually called my surgeon and explained the situation, and now I’m scheduled to go see Dr. P this Friday morning. At 12 weeks post-op, I didn’t expect to be in this situation, especially since the surgery on my left hip was less extensive than on my right hip. I had already been discharged from physical therapy at this point post-op with my right hip. To complicate things further, the pain I’m feeling is different than what I’ve felt with my right hip, AND my right hip has been quite achy as well. Basically, things are discouraging in every possible way, and so with the physical pain has been added emotional pain.

I have found myself wishing that I could just run away from my problems, but it’s hard to do that when my problems are within my own body. I’m tired, deep-deep-down-in-my-bones tired, and I want to forget all of these problems exist, if just for a day. Unfortunately, I can’t run away from my pain because it’s literally a part of me. If I can’t run away, what choice is left? I have to fight:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. -Ephesians 6:10-18, ESV

Though I am weak and do not feel like fighting, my Lord is strong, and He will be my strength. I have to focus on what I know to be true when my feelings are lying to me and telling me that I’m all alone, that no one understands, that there’s no hope. So I fight by choosing to believe that God is good and loves me and wants good for me. I fight by choosing to stay in His Word when I’d rather do anything but read it. I fight by choosing to pray when sometimes I feel like all I can do is cry, for I know that even when I do not know what to pray, the Spirit prays on my behalf with groans too deep for words.

What is the result of all of this fighting (besides lots of crying)? The Lord has met me in my place of despair. He has been kindly and gently showing me that He walks with me. I am not alone in even my darkest nights of the soul, for there is nowhere my mind can go that Christ has not already traveled. There is nothing that He cannot understand. He was tempted fully and yet resisted completely. Not only that, but He suffered in ways I can never begin to fathom, so that I could be rescued from hell and spend eternity with Him. Jesus asks much less of me than what He gave for me. What a comfort, what a gift!

I will be honest: the temptation to sit and wallow in my misery has been great, and I have done my share of that. The only thing that has kept me from succumbing to it completely has been the grace of God, holding me fast. He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion. He wants me to grow in Christ-likeness, and this path is an opportunity to learn that most important of lessons. And honestly, would I learn any of this during a season of relative ease and comfort? Maybe, but probably not. Charles Spurgeon said it well when he said, “I have found that there is a sweetness in bitterness not to be found in honey; a safety with Christ in a storm which may be lost in a calm. It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” It is only when I am at the end of myself that I know I can do nothing without Him. It is only when I am so desperately in need of Him that I realize I needed Him desperately all along.

I wish I knew if one day all of this will be a distant memory. But it is not for me to know the future, only to trust in the One who does know. So I trust, and I fight.

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Everything You Never Wanted to Know About My Hips

Have you ever tried to catch an ocean wave using a small plastic cup? It’s an exercise in futility. There’s too much water and not enough cup to contain it. That’s kind of how I feel about this blog. I have too many thoughts and don’t know how this little space can contain them all. But here I am, holding out my cup…

Two weeks from today, I’m going to have arthroscopic surgery on my right hip. I saw an orthopedic surgeon at Vanderbilt back in September, and he was finally able to give me definitive answers as to what has been causing the hip pain that has been my constant companion for over a year. After looking at my MRIs and xrays, the doctor told me that I have hip impingement in both hips, and this has caused bilateral labral tears. Basically, the ball and socket of my hip do not fit together like they should because of the size of my femoral head, so there is increased friction, which caused the labrum, or cartilage surrounding the hip socket, to tear. (There’s a much better explanation of all of this here.)  The surgeon will shave down the excess bone on my hip and then repair the labral tear with sutures and anchors. The surgery is what the doctor called “deceptive” in that it’s an outpatient procedure that will result in my having relatively small incisions, but the recovery is lengthy and will require lots of rest, time on crutches, and lots of physical therapy.

My lame hip

                  My lame hip

The bad news is that because I have torn the labrum in both of my hips, I will need to have surgery on both hips, and the surgeries cannot be done at the same time. This means that I will have 2 separate surgeries, several months apart (the length between the 2 depends on how quickly I recover from the first surgery, but he’s hoping to do the left hip 3-4 months after the right one). The good news is that if all goes well, there will be a day when I will no longer be in pain! I’m so thrilled about this but also really anxious about the prospect of having 2 surgeries and the possibility of them not helping or making my pain worse. I did finally manage to stop reading every blog post about hip surgeries that I could find online, which has helped my anxiety levels somewhat. (If there’s someone out there with a horrible hip surgery experience, I don’t want to know about it!) I wish I could know that everything will work out perfectly, but there’s no way to know that, so I have to trust that no matter what happens, God will be with me. That I do know I can count on.

I’m going to be laid up for a little bit after the surgery (and hopefully not breaking my leg while trying to use crutches!), so I may try to blog a bit more often. I’m not making any promises, though. Longtime readers know how that usually goes. 🙂

If you have any questions, leave them below, and I’ll try to answer them or at least point you to Dr. Google.