“Through such trials, God bids us to choose: do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?” -Paul Miller.
Since—at that time—UW Hospital was one of the few places in the United States who performed auto-transplant surgeries and were familiar with Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome, our family knew we’d have to spend at least four to six weeks in Madison for follow-up appointments, monitoring, and to be close by just in case there were any unforeseen complications.
Since nobody had planned that I’d wake up from surgery with both arms completely paralyzed, we were extremely thankful that we’d already made plans to stay at a hotel just two blocks away from the hospital. The coming weeks consisted of rest, eating as much as I possibly could, medical follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and exploring the area for small amounts of time as much as I could. We celebrated Mom’s birthday, said a tearful “goodbye for now” to Dad, FaceTimed with Luke, and did whatever we possibly could to smile, laugh, and make the very best of our situation.
Somehow, time seemed to drag on and fly by all at the same time, and before we knew it, it was our last day in Wisconsin. I’d been officially cleared to make the long journey home! God had blessed us with an absolutely beautiful, warm day so we decided to spend our last afternoon at one of the most highly recommended outdoor places in town: Memorial Union.
Memorial Union is one of the most beloved and historic destinations on UW-Madison’s college campus. It’s a popular place to walk, bike, socialize, relax, and study. It sits on the shore of Lake Mendota, and is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my entire life. Mom and I absolutely loved walking, talking, laughing, sitting by the water, watching the boats, eating ice cream, and soaking up the warm sunshine. Honestly, it’s one of my very favorite memories, and was a day I’ll never forget. We treasured every moment and truly couldn’t have asked for a better last day.
While in the past I couldn’t wait to leave the hospital, leave the city, and never look back…..that wasn’t the case with Madison, Wisconsin. While I couldn’t wait to be home, sleep in my own bed, and be reunited with Dad and Luke, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness to leave my amazing doctors, the first hospital I’d ever trusted, our new friends at the hotel, and this beautiful city that had stolen a piece of my heart. I knew that someday, somehow, I was going to come back to this place that was a significant part of my story. I knew I would show my future husband, and maybe even my kids. I knew I would tell them of the people I’d met, the surgery I’d endured, the lessons I’d learned, and the memories I’d made. And I knew that when I did……I was going to be completely healed.
Over the next few months, I continued to rest and recover while working to regain my stamina and quality of life. The process was slow and steady. While I definitely felt like I’d just had my second major surgery in a year, the difference between this recovery and the last continued to remain night and day in the best way! For example, after just a week of being home from Wisconsin, I was physically able to go see Luke sing on stage at Vacation Bible School! This would’ve been completely out of the question mere months before, as I couldn’t even walk from my bedroom to the bathroom. Luke’s visible excitement and proud announcement, “my sister is here” completely made my day. While this is a seemingly insignificant activity and completely normal to most, this was a blessing and a gift for me, and I didn’t take a single moment for granted.
As time went on, I still never experienced any pre-surgical pain whatsoever. Truthfully, I still hadn’t grasped the magnitude of what that meant for my life. However, what I did know was that now that I wasn’t living with constant, excruciating pain, I had absolutely no idea how I survived for years. I really didn’t. There was truly no other explanation but Christ in me. His strength, His protection, His love, and His promises. Christ truly carried me year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, moment by moment, by His grace and strength alone. May I never forget or lose my awe of His goodness, His faithfulness, and His provision.
For the love of all things holy, living without chronic pain was indescribably incredible. As I continued to recover, everyone in my life saw a difference in me. I was making jokes, laughing freely, singing around the house, and smiling without force. My family couldn’t believe how relaxed I was! Without the constant tension of chronic pain, I was sleeping soundly, eating well, taking walks, and gaining weight. While I was still very fatigued and struggled with post-operative pains, that was considered entirely normal due to everything my body had endured! It was a picture perfect recovery…..with the exception of my arms.
August 16th was the three month mark, and unfortunately there was still little-to-no improvement. While my right arm was completely restored, my left arm remained completely paralyzed and deadweight. Since I’d been reassured I should be back to full function by the three month mark, it was absolutely terrifying to still see such a lack in progress. While I’d gained more feeling, I was still completely unable to perform my “real life” activities. The clock was ticking, and I desperately wanted my arm back.
As soon as we’d gotten settled, I’d started occupational therapy again locally. While I’m a determined fighter and always try my absolute hardest to make the best of every situation, I would often leave my sessions discouraged, exhausted, doubting whether or not it was a good situation for me, and not wanting to go back. I did my best to bond with my therapist, push myself to the max with my exercises, and cling to the tiny shreds of progress, but after a while it became apparent that facility wasn’t the best fit for me. They had never seen a case like mine before, and it was clear no progress was being made with their approaches, treatments, and exercises. So, we decided it was time to reevaluate, make a new plan, and book an appointment with a neurologist and an orthopedic surgeon in hope of seeing necessary improvements.
In the month of August, I had three major medical appointments with a neurologist and two orthopedic surgeons in Virginia and North Carolina. The consensus was unanimous; I was officially diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send signals from your spinal cord to your shoulder, arm, and hand. A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are stressed or compressed. It was clear my medical team in Wisconsin was correct, and this had happened during surgery. My doctors agreed that several months of intense physical therapy should restore my arm entirely, and told me I would be back to normal in six months. I was referred to a physical therapist at UVA, and it was back to the waiting game.
Right now, we are living in a time unlike any has seen before. Covid-19 has hit our world in a shocking, startling, and unexpected way. In fact, it’s being labeled a pandemic. People are panicking, local businesses are closing, grocery stores are struggling to keep their shelves stocked, church is being streamed online, and the government has issued legal orders for everyone to stay in their homes. Weddings, graduation ceremonies, baby showers, mission trips, sports games, tournaments, and any gathering of ten or more people has been cancelled. My social media is filled with news articles, startling new statistics, and people who are feeling isolated, lonely, scared, and discouraged. Arguably the scariest statement of all is that we are being told this is just the beginning. My heart is so burdened by the devastation and destruction this virus has caused in our nation. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been affected in some way, shape, or form.
This is so huge, so terrifying, and so beyond anything I’ve ever seen before that there are days I feel paralyzed and overwhelmed of the unknown and what I can’t control.
And yet, somehow this doesn’t feel foreign to me. I am not a stranger to being confined in my home, feeling fearful of a rare sickness, missing out on things I was really excited about, or feeling isolated and lonely. In an odd, twisted way this is more familiar to me than normal life itself. And in an even more twisted, strange way—because this is so familiar, because this is so similar to the most painful part of my past—it almost causes more anxiety, more fear, and more traumatic memories. And sometimes, those memories can threaten to overwhelm me, paralyze me, and make me vulnerable to Satan’s lies instead of standing strong in Christ’s truths.
I don’t know, can anyone else relate?
But when that happens, I cannot allow myself to to freeze, to panic, to get caught in sinking sand. I have to revert back to old habits. I have to do the only thing I know to do. I have to worship. I have to open my Bible. I have to pray.
A few weekends ago, I had to take an entire morning to do just that.
Lately I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and a couple weeks ago I started to read in Exodus about the Israelites battle with Amalek in the wilderness, and how whenever Moses lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed, but when Moses held up his hand, the Israelites prevailed. As I’m reading, I’m specifically drawn to vs. 12 that states, “but Moses’ hand grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side and the other on one side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
As if that isn’t fascinating enough, fast forward to Exodus 18, and Moses’ father-in-law Jethro has come to visit. After hearing Moses’ jaw-dropping testimony about everything God had done in his life, in Egypt, and for His people, Jethro observes Moses listening, advising, and judging the Israelites from the rising to the setting of the sun day after day after day. So Jethro decides he’s going to give Moses some advice and wisdom. He essentially says, “this thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. You need to delegate people in your life who have proven themselves trustworthy and understanding and true. They will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will bless you, direct you, and you will be able to endure.”
As I’m reading this in the quiet of my room, I’m struck by the fact that even Moses—a mighty, heroic man with great strength and faith who walked closely with God and courageously led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt—couldn’t do it alone. In fact, he was never meant to do it alone.
Moses had to have the help of others.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like this lesson is so timely with what our world is facing right now.
And then I remember that not long ago, there was a time when my loved ones literally had to hold up my paralyzed arms. When I had an allergic reaction in the hospital and couldn’t scratch myself, my Mom had to help me. When I needed a sip of Gatorade or a pillow adjusted, my Dad had to help me. When I needed my room vacuumed, Luke had to help me. When it was time to put my food in a to go box on Mac and I’s first date, Mac had to help me.
But then there were times my loved ones had to emotionally hold up my arms, too.
When I had to add twice daily occupational therapy into an already exhausting surgical recovery. When the months, weeks, and days passed without seeing hardly any improvement in my left arm. When post-surgical pain from my incision and retractor placement was intense. When I was at my lowest weight and we weren’t sure if the SMAS would come back. When I’d lost the last shred of independence I had left. When I couldn’t shower, shave, get dressed, tie my shoes, or make my bed without help. When I had to go back to my most triggering and traumatic environment—UVA hospital—for my left arm paralysis…a situation that shouldn’t have even happened to begin with. When it felt like my health had literally ripped everything from me in a way I’d never imagined. When I was hit with an unexpected, heartbreaking loss. When I was informed if physical therapy didn’t heal my left arm, I would have to have a third surgery. When I was told the intense physical therapy would worsen my post-operative pain.
These were the real, raw, times that I felt broken, exhausted, isolated, scared, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t do it on my own. These were the times when so many people were looking to me to be strong and to fight, and I was just surviving.
But you know what?
These were the times when I received more letters than I could count, packages, gifts, surprises, flowers, meals, phone calls, texts, and social media posts. These were the times when I started dating my fiancé…..the very same man who dropped everything almost two years ago to make that trip to UVA with my Mom and I. The same man who held my hand as we walked in the doors of that hospital and supported me through the memories of the past. These were the times I was able to attend my very first Mary Kay awards ceremony at Hotel Roanoke. When I was able to dress up, take a road trip, eat delicious food, laugh with my Mary Kay sisters, and win awards for the work I was still able to do through my chronic illness. These were the times I went to the fair with my family. When I was able to watch Luke win two blue ribbons for his LEGO creations, eat delicious fair food, and even ride the Ferris Wheel with our sweet neighbors. These were the times my Mom and I shamelessly jammed to our favorite musical soundtracks in the car and my godmother came to visit me at the specialist in North Carolina. These were the times I ate pizza and laughed with my grandparents after Luke and I spent the evening relaxing in their pool.
These were some of the times I felt the most supported, the most loved, and the most strengthened.
Friends, there is an extremely valuable lesson to be learned here. Please don’t miss it. Just because we’re quarantined, we’re isolated, and we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t hold up eachother’s arms. We can send letters, we can send packages, we can send surprises, we can leave food on our neighbor’s doorstep, we can make a phone call, we can send a text, we can set aside an hour for a FaceTime, and we can tag someone in an encouraging social media post just because. We can encourage eachother with our words, we can support eachother in our actions, and we can find unique ways to bless those who are feeling lost, those who are feeling scared, those who are feeling discouraged, and those who feel isolated.
Even Moses couldn’t do it alone. We aren’t designed to do it alone. So let’s challenge ourselves to pick up our crosses and do whatever we can to show Christ, love, light, and kindness to our hurting world. Let’s do whatever we can to show our circle of influence that they aren’t alone. We can be a blessing. We can glorify God. We can make a difference.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4.
The truth is, there are “here I am” people and there are “there you are” people. “Here I am” people walk into a room and make it all about them….their lives, their situations, what they want to talk about, what they feel like they’re lacking. “There you are” people walk into a room and immediately notice others, listen to them, care for them, pray for them, and genuinely desire to enter into deep and heartfelt conversation. I don’t know about you, but I want to live out this verse in my life today, tomorrow, and every day through this coronavirus craziness and beyond. I want to be a “there you are” person. I want Christ to speak to others through me. I want every word that comes out of my mouth and every action that I perform to be uplifting, supportive, wise, edifying, and loving. Will you join me?
Honestly, I don’t know what this virus may have taken from you, what you’re going through, or the challenges you may be facing. I don’t have the magic words to make it better, but I really wish I did. But whoever you are, please know I’m already praying for you. Please know you are seen, heard, and loved by our Heavenly Father. Please know you aren’t alone. Please know that even when we can’t see it, God is always in it.
We’re all in this together.
By faith, not by fear.