About a week and a half ago I came home with terrible abdominal pains, which then worsened into nausea, vomiting, and more excruciating pain. I was rolling around on my bed, moaning, when I received a sudden and terrifying realization – “this might be appendicitis!”
My immediate response to this realization was, “Dear God, please say it’s not appendicitis, please say it’s not appendicitis, I really can’t afford hospitals and surgery and pain…oh the pain, I can’t handle the pain, so please say it isn’t so, please say it’s not appendicitis…but…God…is it…appendicitis?”
The Lord, with infinite kindness, then said to me, “I’m right here with you. Don’t be afraid.”
Even in my pained state, the irony, cleverness and beauty of the Lord’s indirect answer to my paradoxical question was not lost. Here I was, knowing full well that I probably had appendicitis, yet asking The Lord to say I don’t have appendicitis because I just couldn’t face that truth, then in the same breath asking Him to tell me the truth about whether or not I had appendicitis, even though I had basically just asked Him to lie to me and tell me I don’t have appendicitis.
Whew, what an impossible prayer and request! Praise The Lord for His mercy and patience with us!
But His response to our manic questions and confused state is always perfect: I’m here with you. Don’t be afraid.
Those words were exactly what I needed to hear. The knowledge that He is with me sustained me during those very painful hours in the ER and afterwards. Sure, an appendectomy is quite a small operation. But for me, who hasn’t suffered ill-health, hasn’t gotten sick, and hasn’t stepped foot in a doctor’s office for the past 5 years, the physical pain and accompanying treatment by strangers in hospital scrubs were nearly unbearable and completely foreign.
Even after the surgery, the recovery had moments where I felt estranged from myself. I couldn’t move my body in certain ways without experiencing pain or difficulty. Movements and actions that I took for granted suddenly became a big affair. Like walking. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without the help of a person or walking stick, and even then it was a very slow process of shuffling one foot at a time, hunched over, taking breaks to catch my breath.
Breathing itself became an activity that I had to consciously think about and purposely do. Because of the anesthesia, my lungs required exercise, or I could catch pneumonia. And so every hour for the first day after surgery, I had to breathe in-and-out ten times through a contraption that measured my respiratory strength. Being a person who relies on her lungs and diaphragm for public speaking and singing, this temporary weakness reminded me of how fragile I actually am, how dependent I am upon The Lord. He is my very breath, the breath of Life, and I would become a conscious and grateful partaker of that breath.
The strangest part of being involuntarily bed-ridden was not planning. Because I’m involved with several different projects and activities, I usually schedule my life weeks in advance. I constantly worry about the next day, the weekend, the next month, planning and strategizing. My brain never completely shuts off from my calendar and clock. But not having control over my physical energy, not knowing exactly how much my muscles and lungs and mind can handle really limits how much planning I can do. I had to cancel all my plans and simply…rest. Literally rest.
Even now, though my strength has nearly fully returned, I still have to take it day by day, step by step, making sure that I’m eating well and getting enough rest in between the day’s appointments and work. Through it all, the Lord reminds me of what Jesus spoke, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). The Lord has truly given me just enough grace each day to do exactly what needed to be done, nothing more and nothing less.
This day-to-day mentality is so different from the yoke of anxiety that many of us carry, simply because we have lived in a culture with standards that contradict God’s will and heart. Anxiety and worrying over tomorrow is a yoke that is burdensome and heavy, built from false expectations or religious mentalities.
But the Lord said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When we take upon His yoke, learn from Him how to live with dignity as a human being, He promises that we would then find rest for our souls. The yoke of worry and anxiety is broken when we refocus our hearts to receive from Him daily our bread, and do only what is needed for that day. No more and no less.
One more thing. Being physically incapacitated brings visitors and friends. I’ve had more quality conversations in one week than I have had in the past 6 months. Resting creates more space and stillness in my soul to genuinely listen to the thoughts, cares and concerns of my friends. To ask questions and be present. Hold their answers in my heart and care about them more than the 17 projects lined up down the road.
Losing an unnecessary appendix refocused my attention on what is really important: relationships. Listening and being still before God and people. Intentionally clearing out worldly cares and stresses and giving my full attention to the one in front of me.
I hope that even after I am 100% recovered, I won’t forget the fundamentals I’ve learned during this time:
Breathe. Walk. Rest. Listen.
These four things are especially important whenever we find ourselves about to step into something, and we’re not even sure how we got to this point, but all we know is that we feel completely scared and unprepared for the rope bridge that is hanging between the cliff we’re standing on and the cliff that’s way ahead in front of us.
In those moments, when we know the answer (yes, you have to cross that bridge) but we’re not ready to accept it, the Lord deals so kindly with us. He prepares us, takes us step by step until we are ready to accept the answer. And, oftentimes, by the time we’re ready to accept the truth, we find ourselves already halfway across the bridge. And we find that we’re actually enjoying the unfamiliar height and the crisp air on our skin. We stop and take a deep breath. We observe the birds, the clouds, the sunlight, the mountains. We take a step forward. We hear the wind and feel it slightly swing us on that bridge. And we know to the very core of our bones that He is right there with us.