Our marriage is Sweet 16 this weekend. Cue “How Sweet It Is” by Marvin Gaye.
20+ years of being together and 25 years of friendship. It’s been a minute.
When I think about this past year and particularly this most recent season in our marriage, I recall the words God whispered to me while I was vomiting in a toilet bowl in Paris in December of 2000: “He’s going to take care of you for the rest of your life. This has been and continues to be true. And, for this I am deeply grateful to the Lord. But, the carer of my soul and true constant in my life is not Adam. Even this gross, but romantic scene speaks of the greater and deeper care that God has shown me. When I’m at some of my yuckiest points, He is near and eager to show me his love – comforting me in distress and quieting my fears, whispering the words He knows will minister to my soul.
It brings tears to my eyes as I scroll through all the moments in my life when God has met me and cared for me in such personal and particular ways. They are countless, and there have been many in the past 6 months.
In February of this year I knew something wasn’t quite right with my back. I’ve known it for a couple of years now as it has spasmed and locked up on me 3-4 times a year, putting me out for days at a time. Not to mention the numbness down my left leg. Well, on March 2nd I went down for the count. Couldn’t hold up my body. I was army crawling from room to room. Adam was carrying me to and from the chiropractor. I tried to rally once I could stand again. Then NOPE. That’s what my back said. Next thing I knew my right leg started going numb, and an MRI was overdue. We discovered I had ruptured my L5/S1 disc. And, it was “gnarly” as one of my doctors put it. It was pushing a centimeter into my nerve canal wreaking all sorts of havoc on my back and left leg.
In all the scary unknowing and relentless pain, I had come to the end of myself.
Friends, I could not muster up faith. I didn’t have it in me this time. And, I was disappointed with how distant and disconnected I felt spiritually. The pain was so loud it was impossible to engage with where God was in all of it. I could hardly think straight. I had no words. Just tears. And, pleas.
So, I gave up.
I sort of gave way to the dissonance in my soul. This is when that verse “When we are faithless, He remains faithful” is an anchor. I needed to be okay with the fact that at this point I felt faithless and that God being faithful was enough for now. All I could do was ask others to pray for my body, mind and spirit. I didn’t even know what I needed. I just knew I was scared, helpless, and sad. One night I remember crying while waiting for my body to become exhausted enough to fall asleep through the pain. I simultaneously was repeating to myself “I hate my body, I hate my body …” while having one of my favorite worship albums wash over me. I did what I could to at least surround myself with the truth that I was struggling to engage with because I simply did not have the capacity. I would be up all hours of the night trying to muffle my screams in the pillow until I was desperate enough to wake Adam so that he could push as hard has he could into the pain in my hip and leg. This went on for days and weeks.
Then, no doubt because of the countless prayers offered up for me, something shifted. My spirit became determined. I was reminded of the “Consider it all joy” passage in James. I’m gonna give you the Message translation:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. – James 1:2-4
Ouf. Consider it a gift! What is there to receive in this season I wondered. I told the Lord, “Forbid it that I get to the end of this season and have not received all that you have for me!” All of a sudden I felt like I didn’t want to miss out. I don’t know if it’s my competitive spirit, but I was like “there is NO way this season is going to be a waste of time – I better have something to show for this on the other end.”
I can be intense sometimes. But, you know what? God shifted my desire for productivity and efficiency. It was like He was saying, “I’m gonna take you further and show you what kind of productivity and efficiency I’m interested in. You pride yourself on being capable. I’m gonna grow your capacity in lasting ways. You are capable of doing a lot. I desire for you to be capable of BEING a lot.” Whew. He had a lot of these loving zingers that spoke straight to my heart. He’s so flipping good at that. Gah!
I thought back to all the days of suffering through panic and anxiety, an especially painful season in our marriage, and the months of spiritual numbness I experienced over a decade ago. And, I felt the Lord gently remind me that I’ve been equipped. And, I was like this … “You’re totally right.” Kind of a funny thing to say to God. For my birthday I felt as though He impressed upon me two words: Rehearse and Resist. It was time to revisit these words, and goodness were they applicable. He had equipped me with discipline, grace, and hope in those past seasons that I was being invited to rehearse in this present season. And, I was also being invited to resist the enemy’s ploys to pull me into discouragement and despair. Nice try, satan. But, He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.
God began flooding me with encouragement through images, skype dates, messages and phone calls with friends who have also had ruptured discs, message threads with my girls, voicemails from best friends, family, sermons, Scriptures, meals, groceries, texts, packages in the mail, lifts to the chiropractor, flowers, songs, devotions, even dreams that friends were having! I had a growing list of what to be thankful for in and out of each day. Weeks and weeks went by and even though I lied in bed for hours upon hours, my soul felt engaged and active again. And, that became more important to me. No matter what happened to my body, all I needed to know was that I had my Lord and He would never leave me. And, in that my spirit could rejoice.
I started walking toward the end of June and driving on the 4th of July.
Friends, it has not been fun. And, I do not want to live it over. But, as I think back on the worst days and weeks, I look back on it with a sort of fondness. This has been true of every single hard season in my life. God, in His goodness, has entered in with me in the darkest, most confusing places. And, His care for me is relentless. There is a sweetness to each season of suffering that binds my wandering heart to Him. My soul knows no other way to live than to wait on Him and all that He has for me.
I’ll leave you with this last passage that God brought me back to in this time. Notice that Paul says to be thankful IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. This is such a helpful distinction that Beth Moore (or Mama Beth as one of my best friends calls her) points out in her study. Forgive me, but I’ve added my own little bit in the parentheses.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always (in sickness and in health),
pray without ceasing (in sickness and in health),
give thanks in all circumstances (in sickness and in health);
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (in sickness and in health).
As I finish this post with my incredible husband sleeping by my side (or trying to, at least), I am filled up. I am deeply cared for by so many, and by a good, good Father.