My Story | Miracles in the Valley

Miracles in the ValleyThe healing process can prove slow and painful. Exhaustion dragged me down as I entered my sixth year with chronic pain. My determination waned along with my will to improve. A valley, though hard and fiery, can become in many ways a comfortable place to stay.

Ben and I dated seriously and knew that we would get engaged by the end of the year, though we kept our plans quiet. He was finishing his final year in the Institute of Ministry, so I left my beloved daycare job at Wolf Mountain to join him. I taught Junior High, did secretarial work, and took classes all while we happily dated. I also quietly sat undetermined to take the necessary steps for surgery.

Somewhere along the way, I finally picked up the slack and began making the calls to switch my insurance to my new county, hoping to acquire a primary doctor so my body could get on with physical healing.

On December 23rd of that year (2014), Ben proposed. My heart brimmed with dreams, and the planning began. Ben was my anchor and proved over and over that he really was the keeper of my heart. In the process of finding decor, making paper roses, and feeling beautiful in my simple (yet detailed wedding dress), my medical insurance finally updated me to my present county … in February!

Needing the surgery, wedding plans took a back seat while I tended to the medical hurdles. I hoped to accomplish it before our May 23rd wedding, but May approached quickly, and the hoops to jump through seemed endless. First, I had to have a series of doctor’s appointments in order for them to recommend me for surgery. Once they placed the request, the waiting game began.

Though simple in nature, the procedure still required the insurance company’s approval. As experience had taught me, a response could take a month if not longer. After that, we would need to schedule a surgery date, and then factor in healing time. It all seemed impossible to meet before our May 23rd wedding date. I needed a miracle!

Hope abounded and with it a renewed determination to heal. I made calls and worked hard to get the appointments as fast as possible. My first doctor’s appointment was scheduled for March 11, but I called the office every day to see if anyone had cancelled so I could have my appointment sooner. Finally, someone cancelled and I was schedule for March 3rd! Praise God!

After the multiple doctors’ appointments, I finally had a surgeon. I scheduled two appointments — the first so the surgeon could look at me and recommend surgery, and the second for the actual procedure. It would take a miracle to get this surgery less than week after the general appointment.

I prayed desperately for this desire of my heart, reigning in my wild pleas as I asked that it only be done if it was God’s timing. I would receive an answer on Monday or Tuesday. I was used to hearing a no, but I was convinced that God would give me a yes. Though I admit my confidence wavered, then flew back in with strength.

I let Monday go by without calling, because surely it would be Tuesday before we received an actual answer. Then Tuesday came … and I was not happy with what I heard. The request was faxed to my primary care doctor, but they never got it. My request for surgery hadn’t even crossed with the insurance company, and they would no doubt take days to approve the surgery. I was disappointed.

But this time, I wasn’t giving up! I picked up the phone and made calls back and forth between both the surgeon’s office and my primary doctor’s office. After things sorted out and my paperwork was submitted to the insurance company, I felt better. I had done everything on my part that could be done.

After all the calls on Tuesday, I stopped the work I was doing at the school and knelt to pray as I again begged God for surgery if it be His desire for me. Waiting wasn’t as difficult as I had made it in the past. God knew my needs, and He knew the timing with which those needs should be met.

I went to my IIM Tuesday class. Prayer requests were asked for, I gave mine, and we prayed that I would have surgery soon.

Minutes later, I was called with this news, “The insurance company went ahead and approved your surgery.” She kept on going, but I was amazed at God. The insurance company approved my surgery in less than 24 hrs! I cried in awe.

This is sunshine in the valley. This is healing in sight. This is wonder because my God is great.

Still in Awe,

Sierra Straightforward

My Story | The Hard Middle

Fall of 2013 dawned as a time of beginnings. I still struggled with my chronic pain, but my job as a child-care worker and my growing friendship with Ben added a vitality to my life that I had left behind in the many months before. The emotional cavities in my heart were healing as Ben helped me grow and live a fuller life. We began officially dating in October. We had a magical Christmas holiday and made long-lasting memories. I really liked dating Ben, and I loved him! By December of 2013, I was certain I would marry him.

We talked about everything that was important, shared the same passions, complimented each other’s strengths, and stood by during weakness. He became my best friend. I avoided calling him boyfriend because boyfriend seemed too shallow for what he meant to me. Long distance proved hard, but fun.

Story4Enduring chronic pain seemed more hopeful alongside a best friend who refused to leave and always comforted me through the tears. The following February (2014), while I took a shower, I noticed a lump on my body. Fear stole my breathe. I had never seen it before, but in the previous months I had experienced a different kind of pain.

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My Story | Shreds of Hope

My first year working at Wolf Mountain Christian camp was interesting, to say the least. I had never enjoyed children all that much, so working as primary child care provider for the staff kidsinfants was totally new and overwhelming. I didn’t have any real experience with little humans. It scared me! What if something bad happened on my watch?

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Strained health and tight finances prevented me from attending college, working a job, and participating in theater. While the child care job provided flexibility, stability, and time to rest, it didn’t come without its share of responsibilities and struggles.

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My Story | The Valley Depths

Several months before I turned 17, I experienced strong chest pains. It became so intense I could barely breathe, carry my books, or even open a door. My parents had left on an important trip, so if I experienced any problems I was to call Grandma who lived close by. She came over in the night, checked my blood pressure, and made the executive decision to take me to the ER.

Valley Depths

I put on some clothes and got in the car with Grandma. Though my blood pressure seemed fine, the chest pain caused concern. It had started in my left arm and became progressively worse. On the drive there, the realization of how fast my life could change struck me. What I heard tonight could alter my life forever. Would I receive bad news? Did I have a tumor? Cancer? What was hurting my body? Even after leaving behind the overwhelming thoughts of death I mentioned in my last post, I still worried a bit of what might come.

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My Story | Age 16

I’ve alluded to my personal story in previous posts, but I wanted to take the next several weeks and share with you in detail the struggles, trials, and triumphs of the last 5 years! I want to take September & part of October to reflect on all God has shown me through these valleys and mountaintops.Story1

At 16, I was almost a year into my chronic headaches. I was a year into those beginning feelings of loss. Loss of health. Loss of physical ability. Loss of capability. Loss of confidence. To this day, I’m not certain whether or not I needed to feel those emotions, but I did and they hurt.

Moving from a physically-able body to a chronically-pained one proved to be a difficult process. I internalized the struggle and fought vainly to overcome it. I spent so much time in pain that I barely made room for anything else. In effect, I worshiped my pain.

 

In the summer of 2012, I worked in Leadership Live at Ironwood Christian Camp — a program for teens to learn about the ministry and apply that same knowledge to actual labor. I also grew up at this camp, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, I worked 6 weeks with 10 other girls, crammed into a tiny room, while serving in the camp kitchen! Surprisingly, I loved it. But my pain remained deep and perplexing.

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Grief & Joy Can Coexist

While I suffered the darkest years of chronic pain, I learned a lot about grief, about loss. It was hard to live inside a day experiencing so much physical pain. I hung up my dreams and resigned myself to a short life. I let my broken body rule my emotions. I grieved in the wrong way — without God. I forsook joy though I had every reason to know it. I became bitter and let physical pain wipe out gratitude.

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We have all been there in one way or another. We have lamented without God, and in the long process of heartache, we forget the joy we have in Him. Somewhere along the way, I learned that grief and joy can coexist. I can feel both.

When the Journey Changes

At the age of 15, I experienced intense, regular headaches. They came so often that I began to worry. By 16, I suffered with unbearable migraines. I would lie down in the school nurses station between classes so I could gather enough stamina to sit upright for the lecture. I would groan quietly to deal with the sharp twists and turns knifing through my head.

It was agony.

near the beginning of my chronic pain journey
Near the beginning of my chronic pain journey

For the last 4 years or so, I’ve recounted this tumultuous journey of chronic pain. Every chronic pain story differs, but each one hurts. My own journey holds much personal depth, and I hope that soon I can adequately communicate my experience with you.

However, in the past year, I have known healing and rest from physical pain. It still remains, but not in the same agonizing way. I am not in darkness. How unique that you and I should meet when this journey of mine has just begun to change.

You see, I recently did a 5-minute cardio workout. Those of you with chronic pain understand the significance of that statement. It feels so good to have my muscles burning again. It is a happiness that I have just begun to re-experience. I thank God for a body that can move intensely for 5 minutes and for these moments of exercise that leave my body burning in the best type of pain I could ever wish for.

This is healing pain. My journey has just begun to change, and I must record it.

I have clearly documented my chronic pain. It is set in my history, but I cannot only recount the dark and hard part of my journey. I must also share when it is full of light and ease. I must remember today. I must remember this healing. No journey stays the same forever. At times, I felt as though the pain held me tight, pulling me closer and swallowing me up. But that’s not the truth.

It can feel desperate, black, and eternal, but this chronic pain journey has slowly changed throughout the last 6 years. Here I am today, having completed a 5-minute intense cardio work-out! The journey does change. It just takes time.

Whatever you face today is hard and often unbearable. But if I could offer you a cup of coffee and have you sit at my kitchen table, I would tell you this …

Don’t impatiently wait for the journey to change. Keep living day by day, step by step. If you need to cry, do it. If you fall into discouragement, fall. But let every pain, heartbreak, and discouragement push you closer to Christ. He is your refuge. Trust in Him.

It is easy to remember and memorize the hard times, but when a moment of joy, light-living, and healing comes your way…savor it, recount it, weave it tightly into your history. That is your journey changing, and just as you remember the hard times, remember the good times too.

As you pray for healing, strength, and guidance, bind your heart closer to God. You may not always receive the answer you hope for, but never let your wishes stand as a barricade between you and the Savior who loves you more deeply, freely, and fully than anyone else ever will. To be frustrated at God is to forfeit your only peace and hope.

You are not alone on this path. Everyone deals with some type of chronic pain. It may not be physical, but it could be mental, emotional, and even spiritual. We all hurt in some way. We were not meant for this world after all. But we have hope! Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to You. Then, look at others and really see them. Ask how they are doing. See how you can share in the burden.

The journey will change, and it will most assuredly take a long time. But we cannot lose heart, God is our refuge and there is joy to be realized in this life of hard valleys. As a woman struggling under chronic pain, I experienced 5 minutes of intense cardio.

That is joy. It is healing.

And I am determined to remember it.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward