Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons in Suffering: Our Undoing

"Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left." -- Hubert Humphrey

"I just don't feel like myself," I have moaned repeatedly this summer.
And it's true. This woman who spends so much time in bed, her bedside table littered with prescription bottles and get-well wishes, bears little resemblance to the more active person I perceive myself to be. This new woman moves so slowly, calculating each muscle movement required to roll over and sit up -- scarcely remembering the nights she would tumble out of bed as a new mother, waking to find herself already on her feet upon hearing her baby's cry. This new older woman walks haltingly, each labored, deliberate step a reminder of how far she has to go.
This isn't me, I want to protest.
The me I was -- the me I know I ought to be -- is much more involved in family life. She bathes her girls and slips bows into their hair. She monitors her boys' computer time and steers them to outdoor activities when they need to burn some energy. She goes to the grocery store and tries new recipes. She does a lot of laundry. She is not a great housekeeper, but she tries. She stays up too late working on craft projects and anticipates each new day as an opportunity to make memories.
In short, she does stuff.
So many of us feel most natural and productive when our lives are in motion. We take to heart passages like Colossians 1:10, desiring to "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work." We pour ourselves into the roles God has given us, and pour ourselves out for others every day. Sometimes we may feel tired, frustrated or overwhelmed by our service, but for the most part we find joy and purpose in using our talents to bless others.

We may begin to define ourselves by our actions. This can be helpful in living purposefully day to day, but detrimental when circumstances change. Periods of illness or financial hardship can be even more challenging when we cannot serve in the way we are accustomed. When we find our identity in doing, seasons of "undoing" can be our undoing if we are not careful.

When I am tempted to discount my spiritual significance during this season of rest, I need only think of my grandfather. I never knew Papa as my mother remembers him -- a well-read college professor who loved the outdoors so much he walked to school each day.

Growing up, I loved to hear stories about Mother's childhood days. She would laugh recalling how her sister learned a lesson about greed when she raced the other kids to the breakfast table so she could claim the biggest blueberry muffin Papa had made, only to discover that the largest one had raisins instead.

Papa took an active roll in church, college and family life until a massive stroke nearly killed him. The next few weeks were tenuous as he teetered between life and death, doctors unsure how much of his former abilities he would regain. Months later he returned home, paralyzed on one side of his body and confined to a wheelchair. Over the next 13 years Papa's health continued to deteriorate, and he spent the last years of his life confined to bed.

Yet even as his world grew smaller, his faith in God grew bigger. He accepted the drastic changes in his lifestyle without complaint and inspired the rest of the family with his spiritual focus. And although his professional teaching career met an abrupt end, Papa was one of the greatest spiritual teachers of my life.

It is true that often actions speak louder than words, and serving others brings fulfillment and joy. But we can still bear fruit even in seasons of undoing. Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Whatever our circumstances, all of the attributes mentioned as fruit of the Spirit are still within our reach when we cling to God.

At yesterday's follow-up visit with my neurosurgeon, he told me I will need at least six more weeks of recuperation before I might be ready to start physical therapy. That means another month and a half without bending, lifting, twisting or straining. Although my doctor says healing from this back surgery will be slow, he feels confident that I will recover and learn to manage the remaining issues.

Knowing that I should return to the person I was helps me look for the blessings in this season of rest. Right now I can draw closer to God with more uninterrupted time in my day for Bible study and prayer. Although not physically able to accomplish tasks I usually do for my family, I can be more emotionally available for one who wants to snuggle or read a book. And as I am blessed by those who serve me, I can encourage their good intentions and express appreciation for the love that surrounds me. And I can let this season inform my service to others when I am well.

But what if I don't recover?

Could I still be me?

I would not be honest if I said I wouldn't face discouragement and frustration if I couldn't return to my normal level of activity. But thinking back to my dear grandfather, I know that even if a season of rest stretches into years, God can still shape us into the people He would have us be.

The truth is that if we surrender to Him each day, we can please Him whatever our circumstances. And when we enter a season of rest, we can find ourselves doing His will -- even in the undoing.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).


Mid-Atlantic Martha said...

Oh my! What wisdom you've shared with us. It's hard and so frustrating when your body fails you in ways that change how you want to live life. It's terribly hard to be graceful, much less grateful. Take care and many wishes and prayers for your restored health.

Jennifer said...

My heart and prayers goes out to you!!! I love your blog in some many ways! I have shared it with many people! you will bounce back I have total faith!


Susan said...

Oh my goodness, Melissa. I see a book evolving from this experience. You are a woman of solid, admirable faith. May God surround you with His angels and bless you during this difficult time. Susan

Sonja said...


There is a beauty in the expression of this time in your life. I have no doubt that your healing is coming, one step at a time, and that your 'old world' will return... but no doubt you will be changed and your perspective altered, within that world... all of it to be even more of what He will use to others.

I love your heart and what is coming out.



Jan's Blog said...

What you are describing is not too different than many of the experiences I've had dealing with my terminal illness. Being 'me' takes on new meaning. The old me, the well me, the energetic fun me, is now different, and there is pain in the loss. There is grieving to be done.

The fear you are feeling of never fully recovering and having to become a new 'you' is very real. Heavenly Father has His arms around you. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, but when I do, what tension and fear it releases. Whatever happens, He'll comfort you, He'll comfort those who miss your former self, and He'll give you ways to rejoice you have never imagined. Anyway, that's what He's doing for me. You will continue to be in my prayers. Please don't despair... You are a beautiful, sensitive, loving wife, mother and friend, and that can never change!

Cheri said...

Melissa, I pray you do return to your "normal" self, but if you should not, if you must never bend, lift, or twist again in your life, I assure you it can be done.

Distraction will be your greatest tool, and remembering you still have your personality, your mind and your mouth (lol) will bring you much joy.

This, as you know, IS my life, but it is rich and so much more than I ever thought it could.

Those of us "formerly" busy gals, always busy busy busy sure do learn a difficult lesson when God has other plans, and lays us out, for days, months and in my case, years.

But instead of letting a wall of depression take over, I use this "free" time to learn more about God, learn more about compassion and all the other things I never had time for.

Does the doc explain why a simple discectomy is so difficult to recover from? I know in my case, I felt super duper (nerve-wise) for 4 months and can go back on Spine Health and read my posts from "back then". And then.....the nerve pain returned, slowly, but surely. I don't know if I had a very delayed relief from the anesthesia or if everything went into shock, but I was taken completely aback when the burning started up again.

NOOOOO, I cried out to the Lord. And a period of rebellion came over me.

But now, 5 years into this and one year after a much-appreciated spinal cord stimulator, I am back to the Cheri my family knew - her mind, her wit, her personality anyway. And for that, I am grateful.

Continued prayers that your body will get this recovery thing figured out and you will be back to your old self very soon.

( (HUGS )


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Melissa. Yes, we need only look at the lifes of our dear older relatives to know that life is not only a prolonging road into the future but it also broadens, deepens and hightens and that we can find, pick and share all these "fruits".
You take care now. Perhaps even write another book ? I take them out of the bookcases every now and then to read a small passage, even though we are mountains, lands,beaches,oceans and seas apart.
Love to your dear children and courage to your hushband.
Lieve groeten
Godeliva van Ariadone

Anonymous said...

ps. There are some difficulties with google identification, for some time now, on several of my friends blogs, for me, so this time I tried anonymous. Hope it will solve itself.

andrea said...

You inspire me! Your love and trust in the Lord continues to bless me! I looked up Colossians 1:10 and couldn't help but gasp at Col 1:11- He follows by telling us we are strengthened with all power and given endurance- May you feel this today precious sister!

Heather L. said...

Melissa, my prayers are with you! You are truly an insipration. You are the kind of wife and mother I aspire to be.

Sue Sparks said...

What do you mean you're not doing anything? This post was an amazing lesson for all of us lucky enough to read it! Thank YOU!
Having faith in God when adversity hits is a true test of our discipleship and taking Him at His word. It is so easy in theory, but a lot harder in reality! May you endure it well, my friend. God bless you.

Donna @ Party Wishes said...

I am so sorry to hear that your recovery time is going by so slowly. I completely understand how you feel and would feel the exact same way if I were in your situation. I have confidence that you will recover and be an active parent and wife as you have been in the past. I think God just wants us to slow down and really reflect on things and since you are one of the "busier bees", he would like you to be quiet a bit longer. Just think of it as an oppotunity to make some lists of what you will be doing in the Fall and for the holidays. When you are feeling more like yourself, you will have everything organized!
Prayers for you and your family. I KNOW that you will be "you" soon.

Tammy said...

May the Lord bless you and sustain you during this time of rest. May He strengthen your faith and prepare you for continued service in his Kingdom. Heal and be blessed!

Anonymous said...

Praying for your complete recovery so you can eventually be back to being yourself......bathing your little girls, tying bows in their hair, taking care of those boys, grocery shopping, trying new recipes, crafting and making all of those wonderful memories for your loved ones. For now, I guess God has a different plan for you. Bless all of your family and friends who are serving you.


Anonymous said...

I was absolutely floored to learn that you'd had surgery and bedridden! I've been on playcation for 4 weeks and checked your blog! OMG! I trust you are better - I'm praying for a FULL recovery - I checked in on your blog FIRST before all others to get ideas for summer and to 'rest' in your creative ideas - Now that I'm all caught up with you - know that God is standing very closely by watching over you... and your family. God is great and he knows you and the pain... What a comforter he is! You have certainly blessed my life - to be better - a better mom, wife and daughter - and friend! Thank you sweetie - You will be in my prayers each day until your healing comes... love love love!

All things bright and beautiful... said...

A beautiful post. I am having to learn to live with a different me. You are in my prayers.

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