“The only way out is through.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Robert Frost but holds so much more meaning for me now having to walk through one of the most challenging journeys of my life.
It has been a little over three weeks since my surgery, and while I am still in the valley (and still faithfully held), God is gently and purposefully leading me through to the other side. I can confidently say that I now see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As I honestly confessed in my last post, I AM HELD (you can read it HERE), this is not a path I would have chosen. My heart and soul cried out, “Anywhere but there, Lord.” But God took my hand (and never let it go) and led me down into the valley.
IN THE VALLEY
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
~ Psalm 23:4
I cannot tell you how many times I have read this Psalm throughout my recovery. The Psalms are a great place to park yourself when walking through any valley. I love how David is raw and real with his feelings yet still able to find hope in trusting God. One word that struck me in this passage (and I looked up several translations to confirm) is “when.” Valleys are not a part of life we can avoid. It is not a matter of “if” we will pass through a trial, obstacle or period of suffering…it is a matter of “when.” God will lead us through dark, painful and lonely places.
NOT LUCKY, BUT SECURE
Someone recently told me that I live under a lucky star. Oh really? Battling chronic illness for over twenty years with several autoimmune diseases that are pervasive and systemic does not always feel like I hit the jackpot. There is no cure, and the effectiveness of treatment (even my recent surgery) is unpredictable. However, I do not want to be too harsh or dismiss the sentiment. I understand what they mean. My life has been full of many blessings. God has been good and faithful to me. Psalm 16:5 describes my journey:
Even so, part of my “my portion and my cup” have included pain, loneliness, and difficulties. I am sure your cup has been full of these things too. That does not mean I am unlucky; it just means that life can be hard. For all of us.
The question I must ask myself is this: Am I only willing to follow the Shepherd when he leads me down sunshine-filled paths, still waters, and green pastures? Can I trust Him to lead me safely through the dark and deep valleys? I am learning that being held and secure does not equal a life free of suffering, discomfort, and fear.
THE BEST AND WORST OF WALKING THROUGH
I have been pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by so many things on this road to recovery.
The Best: The kindness and generosity of people…the most unlikely and unexpected people! If you think you know who will be there for you and literally carry you in the valley, just wait till you get there. Mind-blowing for sure. Almost everything I thought I knew about people and what they would do or how they would act was wrong. Guilty of underestimating many, I was humbled.
The Worst: What pain can do to a person…not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Although my doctors tried to prepare me for the pain, I had absolutely no idea. The anxiety and fear that overtakes you when you cannot move past the pain to do simple everyday tasks such as breathing, swallowing, eating and sleeping is something I can barely describe with words. I have a newfound empathy for those people who are impacted daily by debilitating pain.
THE THREE THINGS THAT KEEP MOVING ME TO THE OTHER SIDE
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) describes faith in this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” My faith has been my anchor and continues to keep me grounded during times of doubt and distress. I had to trust my doctors that removing my thymus was the best treatment for my Myasthenia Gravis even though it was a complicated and risky surgery. I still have to trust that God will heal me because I will not know for almost a year if this surgery will help my disease. In the valley of despair when you barely have enough light to take the next step, faith is the confidence and assurance that God knows the way through and will lead you safely to the other side.
2) FAMILY & FRIENDS
I am convinced that no one can make it through the valley without a strong support system. So many people have shared their trials and tough times with me and without a doubt, each one said that is was the care and compassion of committed family members and friends that carried them and gave them the strength to keep moving. People who know when and how to show up, to be intentional, to offer encouragement, and to stand in the gap. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude for these people. You know who you are and you have my heart and my gratitude. You have been there even when I did not realize I needed you. Please, if you are in a valley today, do not try and go it alone. Let others help you.
Although I would not characterize myself as a fearful person, there were times when fear and anxiety seized me and completely took over. Under the bright lights of the operating room, waking up in recovery and struggling to breathe, alone and afraid in the hospital at 3:00 am, and wracked with pain that was out of control. I memorized 2 Timothy 1: 7(NLT) and learned to repeat it to myself during those moments of fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity but of power, love, and self-discipline.” If being afraid is a choice then so is being fearless. To walk through the shadow of the valley of death and fear no evil (Psalm 23:4) means making a conscious effort to remember that God is with me. He is always near protecting me, guiding me, and comforting me. Only when I remember and cling to this truth can I be fearless.
Over the years I have written so much about being in the middle. Little did I know then what kind of middle God was preparing me for. Now I am here waiting, watching and hoping to walk through to the other side. God may not always take you out of your middle but He can and does provide faith, family, friends, and fearlessness even in the middle of our long and difficult journeys.
One thing for sure is that the middle, whatever and wherever it is, is non-negotiable. As much as I may want to, I know I cannot skip this middle. Neither can you. As Shakespeare famously wrote, “A happy ending cannot come in the middle of a story.”
I pray that you will allow me to offer you the hope and encouragement you have given so graciously to me…and that, together, we can walk through and make it to the other side.