Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2002 22 Feb
Just a few hours after 2001 turned into 2002, I woke up in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. Shocked, frightened and nearly blacking out from the pain (which was even worse than when I had given birth to my daughter), I wondered why my new year had to start out so badly. And I wondered what was going on! At age 31, I was young, and I'd always been in excellent health. In fact, I was one of those health nuts - the type to count organic yogurt among my favorite foods and to (discreetly) ask to move in restaurants where cigarette smoke wafted into the non-smoking section. I hadn't dealt with an illness more serious than a common cold in years.
But now pain overpowered me, shooting through my neck, back, shoulders, and right arm with such intensity that I thought I might be having a stroke. I tried to move my arm, but couldn't. That's when my husband called 911 and my struggle with a debilitating injury began.
Several doctor visits and an MRI scan later, I learned that a disc in the part of my spine that passes through my neck had ruptured out of its place inside the vertebrae and started pressing on my spinal cord and nerve roots. Doctors believe the disc was weakened without my knowledge more than a year ago when drivers rear-ended my car in three separate accidents within three months, then pushed further out of place whenever I lifted heavy objects ever since.
Regrets flooded my mind, and I tried to think of what I could have done differently. If only I had known I wasn't supposed to lift my nearly 4-year-old daughter, I wouldn't have done so several times each day. If only I had known that I needed more tests, I would have insisted on them after leaving the hospital emergency room where I was treated after the first accident (which totaled my car). But I didn't know. And I couldn't have prevented the accidents, which each occurred less than five miles from home in daylight under perfect weather conditions when I was stopped completely - the first time at a red light, and the other two times waiting to make right turns. (All three drivers were distracted by talking on their cell phones.)
Who can I blame?
Somehow, I thought, if I could just blame this suffering on something I'd done wrong, it would help me understand it more. I was angry at the drivers, but not consumed by that anger. Instead, I gave it to God, and asked Him for the power to forgive. Rather than using my time and energy to seek some sort of retribution against them, I wanted to do something that would actually make a positive difference. So I'd written a newspaper column about safe cell phone use and encouraged all my friends to adopt safer cell phone habits on the road.
I couldn't blame God, either, because I knew He never causes suffering. I knew that sometimes, to accomplish purposes that are greater than the suffering itself, God does allow suffering in this fallen world. No one escapes suffering of some kind in some way every day on this earth. Still, when it confronts you with such intensity as the pain that hit me, it makes you wake up and take notice. Like Job and so many others through the ages struggling with illnesses or injuries, I was angry, scared, and grieving for my formerly healthy life.
God knew very well how I felt ... and He didn't mind. In fact, He listened graciously as I expressed all my frustrations to Him. God cares, and He knows what it's like to suffer. After all, He suffered a lot Himself when He came down here to our planet. So I cried, and complained, then left my broken feelings with God. And something amazing happened. He picked up those broken pieces and put them together to create something stronger than before. He took my anger and replaced it with peace; He took my fear and transformed it into confidence; He took my sorrow and turned it into hope.
Through this crisis, God slowed my sometimes frenetic pace of life enough to help me focus more on what mattered most, but He also gave me the power to keep living a dynamic life. The wonderful ways that God entwines our bodies, minds, and spirits within us give us all the resources we need to keep living - rather than just existing - when a part of us is suffering. My body was weak, but my mind and spirit were strong, thanks to God's grace. And within my body alone, God showed me how His design allows for great creativity. "Oh, God," I thought, "I can barely move my right arm, and I'm right-handed - I use my right arm for practically everything!" (Pause for tears.) "There must be some way to get around this. Well, I can still use my left arm ..."