My Journey: With Chronic Pain, Part 3

Living with chronic pain can change you. You can become someone you hardly recognize—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and every other which way.

by Grettel Loney

If you’ve not read Part 1 or Part 2, please click here or here.

“I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy, I will call on Him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:2

I left off on Part 2 with getting prayed over by the elders of my church, getting relief for three days, my pain coming back with a vengeance, and then having an incredibly painful and challenging school year.

Days after getting prayed for, I received an email from my pastor. One of the women who had prayed over me was asking for my contact information. We met shortly after. She encouraged me to purchase the little yet powerful book Prayers that Avail Much, by Germaine Copeland, and to read one topic a day. She challenged me to look up the scriptures myself and to do this faithfully for at least six months. It was just the motivation I’d been needing to get back into the Word. By this point, I’d had seven back surgeries. I was almost 40, I was worn out, and I dreaded my future.

Living with chronic pain can change you. You can become someone you hardly recognize—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and every other which way.

I’d been a Christian practically my whole life, since I was six. I had played guitar on a worship team all through high school, had been to Bible studies in my 20s, been involved in children’s ministry as a worship leader, gone overseas on several missions trips as a translator and worship leader, hosted fellowship dinners with church visitors, even been a greeter at my church—despite the fact that I’m actually quite shy! But because of my pain, I barely made it to church anymore. I hardly read my Bible or prayed anymore. My thoughts on that—surely God understood.

I had never questioned His love for me until the summer of 2008. I’d had a two level fusion, and everything that could have gone wrong did. My pain could not be controlled after my surgery, the meds made me throw up, and my blood pressure was alarmingly low. I wish I could remember better, but then again, I’m kind of glad I don’t. I do recall getting a blood transfusion and a nurse seeming very concerned in the middle of the night. My husband says my eyes got all glossy and he saw a look in my eyes he’d never seen before. He wondered if this is what someone looked like right before they slipped away.

Just a few days after being released, I was back in the hospital for an emergency surgery and another five day stay. I had gotten the worst infection I could have gotten during my 4.5 hour fusion—MRSA-HA. I was only case number three in (at that time) the six year history of this spine hospital. The MRSA had been found on two levels. I was cut open and cleaned out with ten liters of a disinfectant my husband was told was strong enough to clean garage floors! The pain of them going all the way to my spine and all around the rods, the bolts, and the screws to be scrubbed out was insane. My nerves felt fried because they had been!

I was sent home, but vancomycin treatments needed to continue. This was a potent antibiotic that would be administered to me twice daily, for 1.5 hours each time, for six weeks through a PICC line—tubing inserted in your arm to protect the veins. Mine led straight to my aorta where the vancomycin would then be distributed efficiently throughout my body. Thankfully my husband is a smart man! I had no doubt he’d paid close attention to the nurse that had come to our home to show him how to do it and that he wouldn’t kill me!

Just days after being home again, my husband told me the incision wasn’t looking right. I almost fainted from the thought of being cut open again. I fell to my knees and thought I was going to be sick. He helped me back to the bed. The next day we went to my neurosurgeon, and he confirmed our suspicions and fear—I’d have to be cut open again, cleaned out again, and resewn.

It was after this third hospital stay in just under three weeks that I felt abandoned by God. I didn’t understand why he would allow such terrible things to continue to happen. I had to lie on my stomach for seven weeks after that third back surgery. My nerves in my back were shot. They felt like hot needles. For as medicated as I had been all those weeks, I could barely sleep. I was weak, I couldn’t take care of my kids, I sure couldn’t drive my kids to school, and I couldn’t even take care of myself.

I remember the moment I felt God had forgotten about me, maybe even disowned me for some unknown reason. I was crying. I felt so alone. I was so desperate for relief and rest.

I cried out, “Why won’t you help me?! Do you hate me?! If I were God I’d heal you. What do you want from me?! Why didn’t you just let me die?! Are you even there??”

I’m so thankful I’d walked with God most of my life. Even through trying times, He had always shown Himself faithful to me. Those moments of extreme doubt thankfully turned out to be just that—moments. I knew in my heart He was still there. He was still on His throne. He still loved me. After my melt down, I simply whispered, “God, I’m so sorry. Please help me.”

I took life one day at a time—sometimes one hour at a time. Thank God for speaking to that lady in my church to encourage me to get back in the Word!

Isaiah 55:10-11 says,

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

My faith was growing. I came to a point where I honestly believed there was NO WAY I wouldn’t be healed. I knew God had good plans for my life. Nothing could stop that. But I also believed he wanted me whole. I believed Jesus had died on that old rugged cross not just to pay the debt of my sins, but for my healing, as was promised in Isaiah 53:5:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

In April of 2012, my brother told me my husband and I needed a vacation. He asked me why we never went anywhere? I reminded him my back didn’t allow me to sit for very long because of my pain. He asked me, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” I didn’t even hesitate when I replied, “Paris!” He told me he wanted to bless us with two buddy passes to anywhere—to ask my husband where he would want to go. I asked, and he also didn’t hesitate when he dreamily answered, “Paris!” We’d both wanted to go since we both studied French, first in high school, then all four years in college.

At the end of May, we were headed to Paris. The only reason I felt comfortable in making the trip was because my brother told me we would most likely get bumped up to business class. I thought I could definitely make the trip lying down. Sure enough, I got the last seat in business class.

Paris is like a perpetual treadmill and Stairmaster. The metro is an impressive underground world, but even that involves lots of walking—the tunnels to the trains are long and most all connections include many stairs. I’m so glad I had not known that, or there is no way we would have chosen to go there. The first day, we ventured on the metro to the Eiffel Tower. I could hardly stand the anticipation. I wanted to announce to everyone on that train that it would be our first time ever seeing the Eiffel Tower! From that very first night, we were enthralled with the City of Light, the City of Love. We ended up walking way more than we should have because it seemed like such short distances on our little map. The first day alone we walked from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, back down the river, cut back across to the Champs-Élysées, and to the Arc de Triomphe. I had no idea there would be no elevator to the top. And how could you go all the way to Paris, get to the Arc, and decide to not go up? It just wasn’t an option, so I gave myself a pep talk and climbed 287 steps to the top. What a view!

That night it took forever to fall asleep—because of the jet lag—but more so because of the intense pain. The next day I was wondering, “What in the world was I thinking? There is no way I can pull off this trip!”

My husband knows when I’m in a lot of pain I get quiet. I don’t want to even make eye contact with anyone. He asked me if I wanted to stay in the hotel and rest, but that morning, it was the only morning workers were tearing up the concrete around a tree right outside our hotel window to add decorative wrought iron around the trunk. Even if I had wanted to stay to rest, there was no way I could have with the jackhammers tearing up the sidewalk, so I took the pills I could, grabbed my husband’s hand like a crutch, and we went to Notre Dame for a Vespers service.

I had no idea what to expect. I honestly just thought we were going to go look at a centuries-old cathedral. As soon as we entered, I felt something totally unexpected. But then I was distracted when I saw the wooden chairs we would have to sit on for the service. I thought, no, thank you. They were “lovely,” which, if you remember was code talk for awful and pain-spiking. I told my husband I didn’t think that was a good idea. He never contradicted my wishes when it came to not doing things because of my back, but that one time he told me he really wanted to stay.

We sat down, the organ started playing, and I immediately recognized what I was feeling was God’s Presence. From my experience, you usually want to do one of two things when you are in the Presence of the Almighty. You either want to worship, or you want to confess so that you can freely worship. In that moment, God made me aware of sin in my heart no one else knew about.

My friends all thought I was strong. They’d told me so numerous times. Many times I’d even heard I was an inspiration. And probably just as many times I had thought, “They have no idea… I am so not strong… If they only knew… I’m so tired of being an ‘inspiration’… I don’t even care about being ‘strong’… I just want to be normal… I just want my life back.”

Many times over the years I’d been angry at God, or just talked to Him any old way I wanted. I’m not saying God couldn’t handle it, because He most certainly could. I’m just saying He’s the King of Kings… and if the kings of this earth demanded the respect they did, and they got it, how much more reverence and respect did the King of kings deserve? Being in Paris for that short time had given me much greater understanding of how the kings of this world lived. I recommend the Louvre for a solid grasp of that concept! The scepters, the crowns, even the furnishings—they are there for us to admire and imagine a time when kings lived with that level of opulence. There’s excessive luxury, and then there’s Napoleon III’s apartments!

I think many of us who have grown up in the church tend to sometimes get too comfortable with God. Yes, we are to approach the throne of grace boldly and confidently, but the Bible says nothing of doing that disrespectfully, or pouting, or irreverently.

The way I had talked to God sometimes—let’s just say I would never have talked to a complete stranger that way. It was wrong. It was sin. Sin separates us from God, no matter what the sin. In that moment, I was so remorseful. I repented immediately to the One to whom Philippians 2:11 tells us that one day, “at His name, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

As quickly as I repented of something only He could have known about, I was mercifully forgiven. The wall of sin came down instantly, and I was free to stand in His beautiful presence and worship. That’s all I wanted to do. I neither wanted nor did I ask for anything. I just wanted to be there. I thanked God for His presence, for peace I hadn’t felt in my heart in many years.

The next day I was quiet once again. Every step hurt. My whole leg ached. The nerve pain was off the charts. We took off to Père Lachaise Cemetery—a serene and most beautiful cemetery and I might mention huge! The streets of it are all cobblestone. It sure is pretty to look at, but walking on it isn’t the best thing when you’re already hurting. But, while we were there, the meds had kicked in, and I noticed something so foreign to me. I was in some level of pain all the time, so to not feel pain, I definitely felt that. I told my husband, “I’m on top of the pain.” He replied, “I don’t understand.” I repeated myself. He still looked at me all quizzically. Like what in the world did I mean?! I explained myself a little more. I told him the meds had worked, and I wasn’t feeling pain. Four hours later, my meds wore off, I took another pain pill, and it did what it was supposed to but hadn’t done all those years—it actually worked.

I was so excited. I knew something was happening. The rest of our days in Paris were magical with its grand monuments, its stunning museums, gorgeous gardens, endless outdoor cafés, and delicious food. We left so grateful with the beauty of Paris forever etched in our hearts.

We didn’t know we were there during the French Open. We found out when we were checking seat availability for our return flight to Washington, DC. that business class was full. It had truly been a miracle I had even gotten the last business class seat on the way to Paris. If you had told me a week earlier I would have to sit for nine hours in coach on the return flight home, I would have said no way, we weren’t going because there was no way I could survive so many hours of upright sitting. But I was actually giddy. I knew I was going to be fine!

The next day, back home, I got up at a decent time, and the kids were shocked. They simply knew I would be bedridden for many days after a trip like that. I sat down to eat lunch with them at the kitchen island. My daughter was nine at the time, and she probably couldn’t remember me ever sitting down to have any meal with them. I had always stood at the island. She turned to her brother and asked, “Why is she sitting?” I said, “Gracie, I can hear you.” She said, “Yeah, but why are you sitting?” “Because I can!” was my reply. I told them my healing had begun in Paris. They didn’t know what to think.

Over the course of the next few weeks and months, I decreased my meds exponentially. I wanted to surprise my pain management doctor. I’ve only cried at two doctor visits: once when I heard the third doctor tell me he recommended a two level fusion, and that visit when I told my doctor my healing had begun in Paris earlier that summer. He said he’d heard of some supernatural healings over his many years as a doctor. He couldn’t explain why I was better. I hadn’t used that term “supernatural,” but if anyone could say how much it didn’t make sense how I could have gotten better in the midst of a trip I had no business taking because of how physically demanding it had been, it was my pain management doctor.

This story is, of course, my very personal journey. I wish I had a formula as to what you could do if you’re living with severe chronic pain that is stealing your energy, your joy, and your life. I just want to encourage you as sincerely as I can, please do not give up hope. Peter said in Acts 10:34 that God is no respecter of persons. That means he doesn’t play favorites. What He did for me, He can and wants to do for you.

I want to add that I am not concluding or insinuating that if you live with chronic pain, you must be living in sin—not at all. In John 9:1-3, the story is told of Jesus healing a blind man. “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

God uses trials to mold us all. James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I can assure you I surely didn’t consider the years of pain, depression and exasperation joyful as I was in the midst of it all, but I can now look back and see how much I’ve learned, how my faith has grown, and how God can truly use all things for our good.

My healing is not yet complete. I am probably 80% better than I was four years ago. I sleep well most every night. I exercise most every day by walking 2.5 miles around my neighborhood or working out my core in my bedroom with yoga poses I learned from watching YouTube videos. I wasn’t able to work out for years so now that I can, I do believe it’s important that I do. I am a firm believer in discipline. We must do our part. It would be like asking God to protect us on the roads and then speeding all the time or texting and driving—you just can’t do that and expect his protection.

Now, when I’m hurting emotionally or physically, I envision myself in front of God’s throne. He’s sitting there because He is the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Bright Morning Star, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Healer, my Provider, and my Prince of Peace. And the best part? He’s my Father—a good one. That means I approach his throne with reverence, but I can then climb onto his lap and be held.

Have you heard the analogy of a tapestry? You look at the back side and it’s an unintelligible mess—no rhyme or reason as to why anyone would create that. But then you turn it around, and you see a masterpiece. I believe that is what our lives are like. God is weaving the story of our lives, and often times, it makes no sense; many times it’s not even pretty. But one day, from a different place and perspective, we’ll be able to look at the front and see the beauty that was being created all along.

 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
 I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
 I will be with him in trouble,
 I will deliver him and honor him.
 With long life I will satisfy him
 and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91: 14-16

Grettel Loney moved to Tulsa in 1989 to attend Oral Roberts University. She is married and has two children: a son at the University of Tulsa, and a daughter at Carver Middle School. She enjoys Bible study, playing the guitar, traveling, learning languages, and is an avid sports fan. Her other work for the918 includes My Journey: Through Grace to Gracie, My Journey: With Chronic Pain, Part 1, Part 2, and Tips to Help You with Your Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions.

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