In Africa the seasons are basically the dry season and rainy season mixed with warm, hot and hotter. One season highlights all shades yellow and brown while the other all shades of wild and overgrown green. For a few weeks a year the temperature drops enough to put on a long sleeve shirt and maybe even a sweatshirt in the evenings, nights and mornings. If the wind battles the sunshine in the middle of the day you may keep your sweatshirt on through the afternoon for a few days of the year.
I have found myself in a completely different season the past two months. A brilliant explosion of reds, yellows, oranges, greens and browns in the forests and hillsides of southern Germany accompanied by hours of rain, hours of sunshine, and crisp cool breezes that have recently morphed into bare branched brown trees and frosted earth that leaves toes and fingers and noses tingling with feelings of needle-pricked chilly numbness!
In early October I came to Germany for a training to be a trainer for a course called Face to Face. As you know, I started experiencing intense back pain in mid-August. Through my trip to Malawi and Tanzania, hosting a trainer from the UK in Zambia, as well as the people care training in SA, I struggled with electric fire-down-my-leg and sharp stabs in my lower back that seemed relentless. Aside from the moments of relief during small portions of my daily 45-60 minute walks, it seemed I had made a constant, loyal, never-leave-your-side kind of friend and her name was PAIN. For me, she found her entrance into my life by way of a herniated disc between vertebras L4 and L5 pressing firmly against a nerve.
Pain is a funny thing. It opens your eyes to your need for help, your inability to function solo, your utter dependence on God and His grace and your natural tendency to find comfort in things that ultimately leave you comfortless. The hours upon hours of numbing, throbbing, burning pain throughout my back and left leg seemed to leave me with only a few options. Stand and work for bits of time interspersed with walking and laying down. Work feels productive and useful, so I do what I can to hold that position as long as possible every day. Walking starts out energizing and allows for large chunks each day of listening to audio books that stimulate thought, prayer and personal growth and development. Eventually, the pain and weariness shouts out “it’s time to lie down,” and all strength to focus drifts away. This is when the battle for my attention between the Hallmark Channel and the Holy Spirit begins. Although I know choosing Hallmark isn’t God’s best for me, I’m humbled and grateful that He continues to draw and invite me to Himself and give me another opportunity to find comfort in His tender care for me.
I am also incredibly grateful to how He has used this season to open my eyes to see the many people in pain around me. Sometimes I can see it in a limp or a quick diversion of the eyes in a downcast manner. Other times I see it racing down the highway with lights flashing and siren blaring. Sometimes I hear it in a gulp and the following silence when a friend waves away her response to my ‘how are you today?’ then musters an, ‘I’m fine.’ Each moment like this has tugged at a tender chord in my heart and made me much more aware of the love and compassion of the heavenly Father for those in pain. I’m beginning to believe that I’ve been granted just a glimpse of what Paul (and I have) cried out for…that I may know Him…in the fellowship of His suffering…
My ‘suffering’ is nothing to be compared to what Jesus went through for us or what many other people go through every day. However, no matter how minimal mine is in comparison, somehow I have also been invited into the beauty in the fellowship of His suffering, the feeling of His heart, the sense of His care. What a joy!
In one of my recent trainings, this quote struck my heart and really captures this season for me, ‘The Bible does not encourage us to feel joyful about pain, but rather joy about God’s caring presence with us as we go through suffering and anticipate transformation.’
Through praying, walking, swimming, doing back strengthening exercises, physical therapy and traction for the past 7 weeks, my ‘friend’ has become a bit less prominent in life. She still makes her daily appearances, but they are definitely shorter and less ‘loud!’
During this time, I have also been blessed to add a variety of other beautiful people to my list of friends. I have experienced the church in all her glory and have been blessed to be a part of both ministering and being ministered to. I am grateful for all the Lord has done, through people and circumstances to care for me in this particular season of life.