Sunday, September 06, 2009

Medical leave

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:8-13 (NIV)

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

Good morning!

I love reading the writing of the Apostle Paul. If he had only had Internet access and a laptop computer while sitting for years in prison! Can you imagine the messages that would have been sent? As it is, his letter writing is awesome, forever preserved in Holy Scripture, and we have the opportunity to read his personal testimony every single day. God spoke to Paul even in his most difficult hours, as he gave his life over to listening to the voice of the Lord through the Holy Spirit, and he was faithful to record everything He heard. He held nothing back, speaking the Truth in love. Whenever I sit down to write, I think about Christ’s transforming power over this man, and I realize, without a doubt, there is hope for someone like me.

I received a life verse in confirmation class. This precious piece of Scripture was selected for me by my Pastor, and I have carried it in my heart ever since. Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me. I held fast to this Bible verse, when, nine years ago, on the morning of December 26, 2000, I woke up unable to move my left hand. I had sharp, shooting pain up and down my left arm and in my jaw. I was certain I was having a heart attack. After a run to the emergency room and the determination made that my heart was fine, I was placed inside an MRI tube for forty-five minutes while magnetic imaging located the origin of the problem. The disc space between in my cervical spine had been compromised at C6-C7, one of the largest discs in my neck. An accelerated degeneration and years of poor posture, too much time at the computer, weight gain, and lack of exercise had contributed to its ultimate collapse. The disc had herniated onto the spinal cord and when I rolled over in bed, I nearly snapped the cord. I was placed on an immediate medical leave from work, was told not to turn or twist my head, and I wore a neck brace around my neck until the day I had surgery. Eight long hours later, the neurosurgeon had successfully removed every fragment of disc that had herniated onto the spinal cord, allowing it freedom to expand and heal. I could feel my hand again; I could move without debilitating pain. I was cautioned at my follow up visits not to do strenuous activities, like lifting grandchildren, or heavy groceries, or sitting at the computer for long periods of time. No pushing, pulling, lifting, typing, filing – anything that might cause this injury to reoccur. I’ve never done well at following directions. It didn’t seem right to me, after having been given a brand new lease on life, not to be able to live it to the fullest.

I gave up running and bouncing around with my children, but when our grandchildren came along, I just couldn’t abide by those limitations any more. I held my grand babies, and I bounced them, and ran with them all over life’s playground. I swung them in my arms, and we wrestled together on the floor. I can honestly say if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Every ache and pain was worth it. The joy of these moments will last a lifetime. It is that same joy I experienced when I went back to school full-time to study God’s Word. It didn’t matter to me that I would work all day long and then come home at night to crack open a Bible and a few commentaries and read until the wee hours of the morning. I held tightly to Paul’s words that I could do all things through Christ, who is my strength. Even with brittle bones, I would succeed by Christ’s grace alone.

So when I began losing the feeling in my fingers this spring, I did my best to ignore it. I told myself that it was simply a pinched nerve that would heal with a little more stretching, extra rest, and an occasional deep tissue massage. I found that even with this new limitation, I was still able to do all the things I was doing, but not nearly as well as before. It was becoming harder for me to concentrate on school assignments; I kept dropping things constantly, like my car keys. I simply couldn’t hold on to them. Every time I bent over, I had more and more difficulty standing up. If I closed my eyes, I would lose my balance. I began to think that being fifty years old was not going to be as much fun as I had once hoped. I found myself so fatigued that if I sat down on our Lazy Boy® recliner for even a moment, I would fall asleep for hours in the evening. I knew what was happening to my body; I just did not want to admit it was true.

A couple of weeks ago, I slipped and fell in our garage. I completely missed the top two stairs and landed hard on my left side, hitting my head and neck on the front car tire of my automobile. If it had not been for the help of one of our college students visiting our home that morning, I would not have been able to get up. Medical tests revealed what I suspected to be true; nine years later, the disc space in three of my cervical vertebrae are all but gone; the spinal cord is compromised at several locations, as well as the rotator cuff space in my right shoulder. There is definitely a tear in the rotator cuff, but it could be from an accelerated degeneration. I can no longer ignore the consequences of my lifestyle choices.

Have you ever tried to ignore your preferred lifestyle? You think to yourself, “I can do this now and get away with it, and, it will all be okay. God isn’t going to really hold me accountable.” We push and we pull; we stretch ourselves so unbelievably thin that eventually our life’s rubber band can snap in a moment’s notice. Doing all things, as Paul puts it, may not mean, “doing all things all at once, and doing all things well.” Maybe in our doing, we need to be focused completely upon His doing, and in all things, we need it to be His thing, not ours. Take it from someone who is learning a very hard lesson this morning.

I hear God best as He whispers in my ear and I write what I hear Him say. Today, I am barely able to hold a pen in my hand to write. Now I must learn to hear and respond to God’s call in a new and different way. I’ll confess that after I received my test results, I was pretty angry. Mostly, I was angry at myself; yet, not trusting God enough to let go and let Him do His best work through my infirmity. It is human nature to have pity parties when we get the news we do not want to receive. Fortunately, I knew exactly who to call. I spoke with a couple of my pastors and their spouses, and received the strength I needed to face what I face today. In Christ, I’ve declared an end to my unhappy attitude. I rejoice in knowing that I can be content in all circumstances, in plenty and in want – because I can do all things through Christ, even this thing, as He strengthens me.

Three years ago, I began writing a daily devotional message online. Originally, it began as a simple way to encourage my Faith Sunday School friends to read and pray each morning before they started each day. What was birthed from simple email meanderings became such an incredible, joyful experience! I began to meet and pray online with folks from all over the world. I got to hear their stories and share with them in ministry. My most favorite thing to do early in the morning was to log in and intercede in prayer online with a pastor from half way around the world. We could pray for each other in real time, in tandem online. Only Jesus can make things like this happen. What a privilege it is to serve my Lord in an online devotional ministry. The blessings I have personally received have far outweighed the cost. I think the thing that would please me most would be to see all my friends writing and sharing their own faith stories online. No one can tell your story like you. When we share Christ and what He personally means to us with the people God has placed in our path, hearts are softened to His truth, and lives are forever changed. You can be a change maker for His kingdom, if you are willing to serve Him. Are you willing?

So now, it’s your turn and I’m passing the baton to you. I’ve taken a medical leave from work and I’ve withdrawn from college while I heal. The doctor’s orders include, no typing, no pushing, no pulling, no lifting, no weight bearing activities (even though I fully intend to continue with the spiritual weight bearing that comes through intercessory prayer). I need to rest and allow my body to heal as I prepare for surgery very soon. I’ve asked my husband Jeff, my daughter Rachel, my daughter-in-law, Kymberly, and my editor, Terry, to consider posting occasionally on the website while I am convalescing. If you are willing to share your faith story on my website, please call me and I will arrange for you to do that. I will not be online much in the upcoming weeks. It is too tempting to respond to emails and other posts. I hope that you will visit the devotional website to see whether there is an occasional new post. When I am well, I pray the Lord will allow me to share faith stories with all of you again. I thank you for your service to the Lord Jesus Christ, and I covet your prayers as I journey on into a brand new level of trusting Him.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Deb Spaulding

Faith UMC - St. Charles, MO


© Copyright 2009, Deb Spaulding

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