Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Just Breathe

About eight years ago, I was sitting in an exam room at The Advanced Pain Management office. I was there for obvious reasons, I needed my legs waxed. Not really, I was in a major amount of pain from a herniated disc in my neck. I couldn’t sleep in my bed and the recliner just wasn’t cutting it for the long term. I was hurting and exhausted 24 hours a day.

I’m not the most patient person at waiting and intense pain makes me feel restless. So, while I impatiently waited, I fiddled with all the lights, dismantled the spine model, and peeked into every drawer. I began reading all the wall literature, aloud, just in case my husband was bored too. There’s the standard “Rate Your Pain” sign, and the “Patient’s Rights” sign, and the “Breathe” sign, it was actually an acronym “B.R.E.A.T.H.E.” Of course, each letter stood for something different; each one with the same basic advice to “remember to breathe” and to “think of something else,” this sign irritated me. I turned to my husband and said, sarcastically, “Look, I’m breathing in and out right now and guess what? It isn’t helping!” The lack of sleep and the horrible pain made me a little more than crabby. Pain is an insidious enemy; it has a way of crushing a person’s will.

That night the pain became almost too much to bear. Along with the pain came something I’d never experienced before, a full-scale panic attack. The air in the kitchen felt like it had been completely sucked out and I was suffocating. The pain was like a white-hot knife jabbing me, I couldn’t focus and the room began to dip and sway. I felt terrified and needed to escape. I ran for the door and stumbled onto the front porch, and I clung to a pillar for support. The cool October air was just what I needed, it felt refreshing as I drew in a deep, calming…breath (yes, the irony wasn’t lost on me either). After that point of concession, I began gulping the air into my lungs.

It seemed like I stood on the porch for hours, even though it was probably only minutes. I stood there weeping and feeling utterly defeated. My husband came outside too, he didn’t know what to do or say; he just stood there with me. I began praying, but I was at such a loss for words that all I could get out was, “God, I need you.” After that I just let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the talking (Rom. 8:26-27). Everything seemed very still as I looked at the broad expanse of the sky, but even in the stillness I felt God’s presence surrounding me.  A gentle breeze brushed my face. It was as if that cool breeze was sent just for me, a breath from heaven sent to dry my tears, to let me know that He cared about what I was going through.

It’s been eight years and some months since that night, and even after a cervical fusion, I still deal with the nerve pain, which is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. I can sympathize with Paul when he had pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh. I would love my thorn to be removed, but I know that my pain and the continuous pattern of good days and bad are here for the duration of my life. The reason I can come to terms with this is because, like Paul, I know that God’s grace is indeed sufficient and that His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe in misfortune or even luck (good or bad), I believe in providence. God is working things out for the good of those who love Him. He is working out His goals in my weak flesh. God’s decisions have a purpose, if for no other reason than to strengthen my character, to fine tune me into the woman He needs me to be (Jam. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5). I’m not trying to sound noble or like a martyr; I just don’t want to miss the lesson because I’ve focused on the wrong thing.

When we are focused on the wrong thing we find ourselves looking down, literally and figuratively. Charlie Brown described it best, “This is my depressed stance. When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this.” I spent my fair share of time mimicking this stance.  If we look up though, that's when we can see what the Lord wants us to see, that the world is filled with hurting people (in one form or another). We can’t give a hurting and dying world Jesus if we’re looking at our own feet.
Here’s a little encouragement for those that have decided to live life looking up, instead of down. Pray that God will make you aware of those that are hurting and alone, to see clearly those that need building up. Ask God for the strength to push past the walls that they would erect; walls that they think shield them from the pain, the loneliness or even rejection. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thes. 5:11; 14).

I like to read through the Book of Psalm, it is filled with so much motivation and hope. I can reach in and find so many passages that offer comfort in times of distress and fear. Have you ever noticed a sentiment that is repeated quite frequently? It’s “Praise the Lord,” we are to Praise the Lord in the midst of our fear, we are to Praise the Lord in the midst of our joy, we are to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:16-18, emphasis mine).
The Book of Psalm begins with the exhortation to delight in the law of the LORD and it ends with, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Ps. 150:6, emphasis mine).  So, with every breath that is within me I will Praise the Lord.

**For my mom, who has faced her pain for over thirty years with bravery and dignity and for a sweet friend who is battling cancer; who in the midst of her own aches and pains wants to blog her experience so that others might be encouraged.