Plans are very fickle friends. No matter how much time is spent nurturing and protecting them, they can turn on the planner in an instant, leaving confusion and discouragement in their changeful wake. This happens a lot to the chronically ill, and unfortunately, it happened to me again this week.
A last-minute plan occurred earlier this spring, when my husband and I booked a cruise in April. This vacation was pretty risky as it was only a couple of months after one of my big surgeries. However, we booked it a couple of weeks out, determined to make 2017 full of positive memories. “We’re booking this trip, whether we have fun or not!”, I said to my husband after booking.
On the cruise, we met some vacation friends who casually asked me if we planned our vacation as a celebration of anything, thinking I would say a birthday or anniversary. Like the big weirdo I am, I nonchalantly said, “Yes! We’re celebrating the fact that neither one of us has any surgeries scheduled!” Realizing this must have sounded strange, I vaguely explained that one or both of us have had surgeries scheduled for the last three years.
Just a meager month after returning from our trip, this week I was told that I will likely be undergoing another surgery on the nerves in my chest to try to reduce pain and nerve damage. This news was not a total surprise, considering my most recent surgery was not a booming success, but the news still left me feeling disheartened. Our plans for 2017 included: recovering and strengthening from the two major operations I had in the last year, travel and make new memories that are not healthcare-related, and start trying to have a baby. There are no guarantees how long it will take to schedule and complete this next surgery, so some of our plans will have to be delayed.
Though the news I received this week was filled with sadness and disappointment, my reaction to disappointment now is infinitely different from the beginning of my chronic illness journey. When I woke up a little over three years ago with a numb shoulder and searing nerve pain throughout my right chest and arm, the main emotion I felt was fear. I continued to feel fear throughout the next two years as several more injuries, diagnoses, and unknowns became integral elements within my medical chart. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of any of my illnesses being fatal, but I struggled with fear that I was reaching my breaking point. I worried that if one more bad thing were to happen, I would not be able to handle it. I didn’t necessarily know what “not being able to handle it” meant, but that didn’t minimize my fear.
Over time, my fear has dissipated immensely. This is something that I owe to chronic illness. I don’t fear surgeries very much anymore, and I don’t fear death nearly as much. Love really does conquer fear. God’s constant provision in our lives, sometimes even in the smallest details, has instilled a confidence in me that, when life doesn’t go as planned, it’s an opportunity to cling to God’s promises and to rest in the fact that no pain is wasted.
Just because I don’t struggle with fear as much when tragedy strikes, doesn’t take away the sadness. Even as I type this entry, my pinky fingers on both hands are numb and I am in horrible pain throughout my right arm. I am sad that I have to go through another painful operation without guarantee that it will make a difference. I am sad that a couple of my conditions could be exacerbated by pregnancy, and as I am now, I wouldn’t be able to hold our baby without assistance. In this sense, I know that it makes sense to have this surgery done before starting a family, but logic doesn’t always heal heartache.
However, trust is a choice, not an emotion. So is love at times. Leaning on God’s word provides promise after promise that He is good, loves me, and wants the best for me. It’s so hard to grasp that sometimes His best includes pain and discomfort, but when I think about all the ways this pain and discomfort has shaped and improved my character, given me perspective and helped achieve a balance in my life that I had never experienced previously, I am reminded that any situation can be used for good when I choose to allow it.
My favorite verse has always been John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” I feel God’s comfort in the fact that I was drawn to this verse long before my life became difficult. Plans change, and my surgery count is about to go into double digits. But God is so incredibly good and He promises that, one day, I will be in Heaven with Him with a perfect body. I will praise Him then, just like I will now with a body covered in scars.