What follows is a cut and pasted copy of a newsletter from a favorite author of mine, Susan May Warren. My sister forwarded it to me last December, knowing I could relate to what she was describing and I found it to be very well written. Given that I've struggled this week in "not feeling good" - I thought it would be a very appropriate time to share this encouraging perspective from Susan..........
This is going to be a different holiday newsletter than I've ever written. But perhaps that's because I've never had the experience that I had last week. And perhaps, as I see myself coming through it, the timing is apropos. Thank you for bearing with me...
I love living in Minnesota - the lakes, the pine trees, even the snow I find glorious. And, on blue skied days after a storm, I even enjoy shoveling. Until last Monday. See, I'd been traveling for nearly a month which caused my neck to become "out of joint." It's an ongoing problem from the time I broke a vertebrae in my neck when I was in college. Always, I have an acute ache in my neck, but it worsens when I sleep in different locations. I'd gone to my trustworthy chiropractor for an adjustment and felt simply grand - so grand that I went home and cleaned my house from top to bottom, did loads of laundry and in a crazy burst of energy, decided to shovel the walk...and (here's the bad part)...chip the ice off the front stoop.
As I was chipping, I felt a little click in the back of my neck, as if something might have, well, slipped out of place. It did. Two hours later, my family found me in the fetal position on the sofa, unable to move. I'd slipped a disk in my neck and pinched a nerve (it felt like ALL of them) and I was immobile and in excruciating pain.
Thus began my odyssey through the dark tunnel of pain, and the lessons it taught me.
I though heat would help, so I applied a heating pad through the night and although I did feel better - going from a nine on the pain scale to an eight, even with pain meds, it inflamed my already knotted muscles and by Tuesday morning, I couldn't move. My chin was locked down at my right shoulder, my right arm drawn up close to my head. I had to have someone drive me to the chiropractor who asked, appropriately, "What did you do?"
She adjusted me the best she could and sent me home with icing instructions. I could barely breathe let alone write. I sat in bed with an ice pack all day, whimpering. Night was even worse - I couldn't get comfortable and would wake every hour to find a new position for relief. But I couldn't escape the pain - it ran in rivulets down my arm, pulsed at my neck, pressed like a knife into my back. Every once in a while I simply had to let out a scream of pent up agony. (I tried to warn my family before I did it, however. I didn't want to frighten them. I think they were frightened anyway.)
Wednesday came and my son drove me back to the chiropractor. My pain had minimized to a eight and after she worked on me, dropped to a seven. I thought - great! This is improvement! I'll put heat on the muscles to get them to loosen up and by Thursday, I'll be back at my computer, writing. Me and my bright ideas... That night, my inflamed muscles swelled and yanked all that straightened vertebrae into its grip. Thursday morning I woke up in agony, worse than the first day of my injury, ready to jump from a tall building. Regardless of how I moved my arm, pain flooded through it, pulsing, without abatement. My neck had a boulder on it, a vice gripped my spine.
And, my chiropractor had Thursdays off.
So, although we live in a small town and this was terribly tacky, I called the other chiropractor, a wonderfully kind doctor I know from dancing class, and he agreed to see me. I was nearly in tears, ready to head straight for the ER for morphine when I stepped into his office. I was in so much pain, I couldn't even fill out the forms. Thankfully, God had sent my good friend Laura on ahead to an appointment before me and, surprised to see me, she took the time to sit and fill out my forms for me. (I clearly owe her pie, if not a vacation to Mexico.) My doctor/dancing friend could hardly believe how wretched I'd become. He did a few pressure massages and the pain eased enough for me to forgo the ER and head back home with ice. "No heat," he said.
No problem. I would have plunged myself into Lake Superior if I thought it would help.
He sent me home with these words, "You will get better. This will not last forever." I clung to those words with both pain-riddled hands.
I practically bathed in ice all day, and feared for the long painful night. Forget writing. Forget email. Forget even talking on the telephone. All I thought about was the pain, how it consumed me, how I couldn't move without it raking through me, and how I couldn't bear to live like this.
I thought of my friends who I knew lived with chronic physical pain - sufferers of accidents or fibromyalgia or cancer. And then I began to think of those in chronic emotional pain, and how that pain must be deeper, cause even more despair.
Deep into that fourth night of sleeplessness, after trying everything I could to find relief, I began to sob into the darkness. I couldn't take it anymore - I just needed help. Anything. And, although I had prayed before for healing, I began to beg, to plead, to throw myself at the hem of Christ for deliverance.
I needed a Savior.
And then...then I rolled over yet again, put a pillow beneath my arm and...the pain subsided. So quick and profound was the relief, I nearly didn't believe it. I drew in my breath...and yes, it had abated. Not entirely, but enough for me to sleep. To believe that yes, I might get better.
Friday morning, I went to the chiropractor again. And, yet again, she adjusted my bones back into place. I was able to get a massage. (I am sure my massage therapist thought I was in labor for all the breathing techniques I was using). Though the heating pad looked tempting, I went back to my ice. And prayer. And hope.
Saturday, I had a book signing, which I managed to sit through, and today...I went to church and praised the Lord and thought about the things I learned from pain.
1. Pain is exhausting. It saps sleep, energy, your mental facilities and even your hope. Pain chips away at you from the inside, out and eventually turns you into a person you might not recognize as life becomes more excruciating.
2. Little gestures of kindness mean a great deal. From getting an ice pack to cooking dinner to even the chiropractor calling my home to check up on me...anything someone did to show they cared felt huge. I wasn't shouldering this pain alone.
3. Pain will deepen or destroy your faith. Theologically, I couldn't blame this pain on anything but my own fallen body. It was an accident, nothing more. But why wasn't God healing me? I could either get angry with him or turn to him for help. I am a believer of reaching out for help to the One who can help, so I held on to God with everything in me. But, I understood more clearly the thoughts that propel people to grapple with their faith.
4. God puts healers in our lives to help us. As I worked with my doctors' advice, God began to heal me. When I relied on my own (uninformed) advice, my condition worsened. It made me wonder how often I have worked against the advice of people God has sent into my life to help heal me.
You might be saying, "This is interesting, Susie, but what does it have to do with Christmas?"
I know this season is a difficult time for so many this year. There is chronic pain all around us - physical, financial, emotional, and finally, spiritual. There is nothing worse than the pain of knowing you are broken spiritually. That you are estranged from God - trust me, I've been there, too. I just didn't recognize until now how that pain mirrored physical pain, how it dug me out from the inside, how little acts of kindness from believers, and hence, from God, ministered to me. I am so thankful that during that dark, painful time, God sent me "chiropractors" in the faith to bring me back to a whole relationship with Him. Satan will try and use pain of any kind to pull us away from God, away from faith and to break us, ultimately, spiritually.
Which brings me to the Christmas part of this letter. Our world is in great pain right now. It seems that there is more suffering, more fear, more desperation. And more people who need to hear that there is deliverance. Into our pain came a Savior, and at the end of the day, with eternity before us, it is only that Savior - Jesus Christ - who can ease our pain. Only His forgiveness, only His truth, only His hope can mend those broken places, realign us, ease our suffering.
Because, he's been there, too. Isaiah 53:3 says "He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain..."
I've long believed that God uses physical and emotional pain to address a spiritual pain in our lives. To draw us into further healing, from the inside out. But we have to cooperate with him. To reach out, draw near and hold on because, in the words of the Great Chiropractor: "He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help." (Psalm 22:24)
If you are hurting, I believe there is healing regardless of how deep the pain goes. You may always have a deep scar or acute ache in your neck, but there is still healing. I know pain is debilitating, that it can feel hopeless. Don't give up. Don't let go. Be like the woman in Luke 8: 43-48 who pushed through the crowd and grabbed Jesus' hem, armed with only the desperate (and accurate!) hope that she'd be healed. Push through the crowd for Christ. He will stop. He will see you. He will touch you. He won't leave you to suffer alone.
I pray you have people in your life who do the "little things" and "chiropractors" who can do the big. Most of all, I pray that your faith deepens and that, in your dark hour of sobbing, you find salvation.