I have a pretty visual mind.
This can be both a blessing and a curse in some ways, but for the most part I love it. I love how it makes me empathetic by putting me in other people’s shoes. I love how it connects me with the Bible by virtually placing me into the stories, making me see things as if I was there to witness it. I love how it helps me to understand new ideas, relive my friends’ stories, and feel other’s emotions in a very real way.
This is also one of the ways God reaches out to me. And this was the way God showed himself to me while I was in the hospital for the week and a half before surgery.
In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I was in pain. The word “pain” is an understatement. I was in agony. In the morning, I would wake up and wouldn’t move. Worry would flood my body. I knew what kind of day awaited me. As soon as I moved, I would have to run to the bathroom, keel over into the fetal position, and wait for the pain, which was comparable to a knife scraping across my stomach at this point, to pass. This would maybe take about a half hour of my morning, after which I would attempt to get ready for work. This was hard for me because not only was I already exhausted from the pain, but I was sore in my joints and my body was weak. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything because that would only mean more pain. And just walking out the door meant conjuring up all kinds of courage. The drive from home to work was enough to send me into an anxious panic every morning. By the time I go to the bathroom one more time, pray myself up and down, get in my car, and get to work, I’m already a half hour late. This was a daily occurrence for me.
Each day was the same. Barely eat. Barely move. Run the bathroom. Pray no accidents would take place. Fear driving my car anywhere. Question every pain in my stomach. Call my nurse about new symptoms. Get tested for anything that might be a reason for this flare up. Go to bed early because 10 hours of sleep isn’t even enough.
I would cry constantly. I would cry every time I had to say no to hanging out with my friends. For example, for 4th of July, the pain and anxiety was too much for me to handle so instead of going out with friends, I drove myself around the Kansas City suburbs to watch the many firework shows from afar. At least if I drove myself, I didn’t have to be an inconvenience to my friends if I had an emergency and needed to go home. I felt like a burden to my friends. I didn’t want my problem to become theirs.
Many nights I begged God for healing. I believed with all my heart He could heal me but didn’t feel like He was listening to my cries.
Don’t you see me crying, God?! Don’t you see my pain?! I’m so sick of this! I can’t do this anymore! Do you even see me down here?!
Things kept getting worse and God kept feeling distant. But every once in awhile, while I laid on the floor writhing in pain, I’d get this picture in my head. It was that scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus was hanging on the Christ, about to surrender his soul to God. He looks over to the robber on his left and tells him “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”. (Luke 23:43)
In the midst of my pain, I would turn my head to the side and look into the eyes of Jesus. His eyes gave me comfort. His eyes reminded me that this pain was temporary and that he was there, right beside me, going through my pain with me. I wasn’t alone.
Fast forward to the week and a half I was in the hospital. I would get that same picture in my head a few more times while I was there, especially as things started to get worse. The pain was unbearable. The loneliness and depression was getting worse. It was a miserable time. But each time, I would get this picture of Jesus looking right back at me and I was comforted. Not only did that vision remind me that he understood my pain, but it reminded me that he died for my pain. So that someday I would be in paradise with him and there would be no more suffering.
As the day of my surgery drew near, I was not in a good place mentally, physically or emotionally. I remember breaking down to my mom, saying “mom I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t take it! I can’t do the pain. I can’t do the surgery. I can’t do the ostomy. I can’t live with any of this. I’m not strong enough. I can’t do this!”. As I said this, I got another vision in my head of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He begged and pleaded with God to take this cup away from him. He was anxious to the point of sweating blood. But he prayed “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42). And yet again, I felt like God was reaching out to me in that moment, reminding me that He didn’t even spare his own son from suffering. And His suffering was for the good of all people, including me. Even Christ prayed for the suffering to pass. But Jesus was willing to suffer to fulfill God’s plan for salvation. He didn’t take the cup of suffering away from Christ. Who am I that he would take away suffering from me?
The day before my surgery, I was distraught. I had to do a colon prep which was turning into a disaster and I was miserable. The whole day was just..bad. But what made it worse was that I didn’t feel like God was there. I just did not feel his presence whatsoever. I laid in my bed, scanning the the hospital room, examining everything from the old lady in the bed next to me, to the IV in my arm, to the prep mix I was supposed to drink. I hated everything about what was happening. And I just felt so alone.
So I called my dad and told him just how I felt. I told that I didn’t feel like God was with me at all. I felt like he had abandoned me and left me to do this on my own. Of course, my dad assured me that God was always there and he was closer than the air I breathed. But it didn’t feel that way. Especially when they were forcing a tube down my nose, making me gag and cry at the same time. (I couldn’t keep the prep down and this was their last option). I was at my wits end. I was convinced that the pain was never going to end; that something worse was going to happen and it would never get better.
I laid in my bed, closed my eyes, and cried silently. In my mind, I was shouting to God. “Where are you God?! Why did you leave me? Why have you forsaken me?!” And instantly, I got another vision in my mind. It was of Jesus on the cross, crying out to God in the midst of his crucifixion, shouting “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?! (Matthew 27:46). This was when I realized what was happening with these visions. I was experiencing something surreal. I was being privileged with a glimpse into the sufferings of Christ. I was able to visualize what it was like. I was given a taste of emotions felt on that day. Though my suffering is incomparable to that of Christ, it felt like I was getting a first-person point of view.
Surgery day was oddly peaceful for me. It was weird – I got all showered and pretty (and by pretty I mean dried my hair and put deodorant on) for what felt like my death. As weird as it sounds, I felt like I was preparing myself to die. Not that I thought I was going to die in surgery. But I had this oddly peaceful assurance about the day, like this was the day the suffering would end and my old self would die. I was about to start a new life. I didn’t realize it then, but I think that’s why I had that feeling.
After much prayer and anointing for healing, I was off. They wheeled me in to the surgery room, laid me out straight on what felt like wooden board, asked me a few questions, and started pumping in the good stuff (aka anesthesia). After a few minutes, I was completely at ease. I said a few last words that were apparently hilarious to the nurses but I don’t remember them. Then finally, I was out. They stretched out my arms, pumped me up with CO2, and got to work. I went in with a colon, and came out with a hole in my side covered by a bag.
It was over. Done. I wasn’t in pain anymore. I knew it as soon as I woke up. My life of pain before was nothing but a memory. I was about to start a whole new life of freedom. Praise God.
But here’s why I tell you about these visions and images that are so personal and real to me.
God related to me in every step of the journey to surgery, and he did this by bringing to mind the pain and struggle Jesus went through. He reminded me that we serve a God who is real. He is not a distant God who doesn’t understand, because he does! There is no trial we’ll ever face that Jesus Himself did not face.
God chose to let me go through this suffering and to heal me in this way. He chose this path for me because it would ultimately bring Him greater glory. He has a plan and reason for everything I’ve gone through, and He will use my story to reach others.
That’s the kind of God we serve; one who will go to great lengths to reach us. He is continually reaching out to us, showing Himself to us, blessing us, and expressing the depth of his love and compassion for us. He takes care of every detail and works everything out. And after we have suffered a little while, He will pour blessings on us like we can’t imagine.
He didn’t let this happen to me so that I would be miserable. Instead, He did this for my benefit – bringing me into a new understanding of Christ crucified, strengthening my faith and trust in Him, revealing the Gospel message in a new way, and showing me just how much He truly loves me.
There is good that comes from suffering. I have seen it and lived it. How thankful I am to have a God that understands, cares deeply, meets us in our sorrow, and brings us out of darkness and into Light.