In my last post, I shared how I finally learned that God truly, eternally, loved me as heart knowledge, not head knowledge. As promised, I am sharing what I learned after my heart was stabilized and I was finally able to enter a rehabilitation hospital for my right knee (following knee replacement surgery).
People always said I was strong
I need to preface my story with a bit of background. As far back as I can remember, people have told me that I’m strong. Of course, others made sure to balance that statement with a caveat – that I was strong-willed and needed to tone down my character. In later years as I grew in my faith in Jesus, I listened to different teachers explain why our own strength was bad, and they would always quote Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 10:12). I was taught that God would be my strength when I was weak. There was just one problem…
I had to lose my self-reliance
As a single woman living in Israel, I quickly found that I had to be strong. With no parents still living, no brothers and sisters, and no family in the country (and only cousins in the USA), weakness was not an option. I had to learn to do everything myself, from making major decisions to doing things that I truly didn’t think I’d be able to do. In the process, I discovered that I could do a lot more than I thought I could. But what people were interpreting as strength was self-reliance. I knew how to quote the right Bible verses to others, verses that should have been relevant to my situation, but all that really did was hide from others how much I was hurting and how weak I really was. It also kept me from fully understanding what Paul meant by “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Over the years, I’ve progressed, but my tendency to be self-reliant often got in the way.
I needed a good dose of being utterly helpless in my own strength. I had to lose my self-reliance!
The gentleness of the Holy Spirit
Actually, God began to work on my self-reliance already at Rambam. In one fell swoop, I went from being forced to do as much for myself as the nurses believed I should do (but barely could cope with), to not being allowed to do anything except feed myself! Even getting up from my bed to a chair was a major chore.
Here’s the thing about genuine helplessness – it forces you to react. We humans have such a need to be in control, that when all control is lost we are faced with our limitations and the source of our hope and strength. To be honest, I’m rather amazed with how I responded to my helplessness. I remained positive, I was patient with the nurses and staff in the hospital, and as far as I could, I tried to get along with the different people I had to share a room with.
As the hours and days passed, I found that something strange was happening inside of me. I had stopped fighting. If you had told me before my surgery that I would have to be bathed and have my diaper changed by male nurses and orderlies, I would have said, “I’d rather die!” Yet here I was accepting the situation with a smile and making every effort to help them feel better – well I knew this was not me! If finally dawned on me, this kindness, this grace, the joy I felt, the encouraging words I was speaking, these were from God’s spirit! I remember thinking, He is working this in me – because this is NOT me!
Rehab – a new unknown
As my time at Rambam drew to an end, I was faced with a new unknown. What would happen at Fliman, the rehabilitation hospital? The first day I’d been there – was it only 6 days ago – the bed had been old and I hadn’t been allowed to get up and move, even though the surgical hospital had me doing everything for myself, and my roommate hadn’t been able to speak English or Hebrew!
As I lay in the ambulance with a friend accompanying me, I began to get nervous… what would happen this time around? How would I ever be able to manage if every time I was uncomfortable, I needed to ask for someone to help adjust the bed? How long would they insist on diapers or a bedpan?
As the orderly wheeled me into my room, the Lord had an amazing surprise for me: I saw only one bed in the room – an electric bed.
“Is this my room,” I asked incredulously? They assured me that it was and I burst into tears.
My Chinese friend who was with me understood why I was crying and just smiled, but the orderly was confused. “What’s wrong?” he kept asking.
I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t explain, and my friend, smiling, explained simply, “She’s happy.”
The look on his face was rather comical as he gave up trying to understand and helped me to bed.
The Lord knew what I did and didn’t need.
While I still wasn’t allowed up on my own, and no, I wasn’t allowed to use the restroom yet, I had a wonderful quiet private room, could be comfortable in bed and move as I needed, raising and lowering my leg to help relieve the pain. Friends could visit and we had precious times of fellowship and private prayer.
Despite my lack of independence, the sense of God’s cushioning love never once left me.
Now it starts…
Three days later, I was told that my single room was needed for isolation, I’d have to be moved. I recall thinking, “now it is going to get hard.” And then, just as quickly, I caught myself praying that the Lord would be in charge of the new room, the new bed, and my roommate.
They had just moved all my things into the new room and started to move my bed into the room when the nurse came back and said, “Please don’t be upset.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well, the person who was supposed to come canceled, so we are taking you back to the single room.”
I burst out laughing as the bed, mid-transport, reversed directions. “I get it,” I laughed, “We are playing musical beds!”
The nurse laughed as well, but one said, “If I were you I’d be so upset.” I just laughed some more.
It was another day of grace. The next day, the same nurse came into my room. “I’m really, really sorry,” she said gently, “This time we really do need your room.”
I reassured her and said it was OK. The thing is, it really was OK, though I still had this sense, now things really will get hard.”
As they began moving the bed, one of the nurses from the day before said, “aren’t you upset?”
Without thinking, I laughed and answered, “We are still playing musical beds!” as one of the other nurses exclaimed, “I don’t think she knows how to be unhappy!”
And all I could think was, thank you, Lord, thank you!
The power of a complaining spirit
There is no space to go into all the details of the next two and half weeks. There were a lot of challenges, and when totally alone, not a few shed tears. Physical therapy was hard and terribly painful in the beginning. But as the days passed, God opened amazing doors to share with many people, one who even expressed interest in, and received, an interesting book in Hebrew about Genesis and Yeshua (Jesus). Over and over I experienced God giving me amazing patience, grace, and words. One woman even cried, poured her heart out to me, and let me pray for her. All I can say is that despite the challenges it was an amazing experience and I was in awe at what God was doing in and through me.
However, one particular day it became clear that God’s work in me was only possible because I had accepted my helplessness and that I was letting Him help me in ways I’d never consistently done before.
It was only a few days before I’d go home. I recall waking up. I had asked the nurse if I could take a shower by myself, and again, she’d said no, I needed to wait until there was more staff on hand to help if I needed it. I’d told her I was OK, I didn’t need help, but she was more insistent, “we can’t take that chance.”
My mind was filled with grumbling thoughts. Why won’t they let me shower by myself? What’s wrong with them? I hate it here, I hate feeling like this… I…”.
My roommate’s words interrupted my complaints, “Why won’t they give me pain medication? Why are they going to make me get up? I don’t want to get up…” and her complaints continued.
I felt a growing irritation, and then, suddenly, deep in my spirit, I felt a rebuke. Stop it! What do you have to complain about? Stop now!
The thought was so strong that it took me by surprise. I can’t say I was sorry – yet – but my next thought was, I haven’t done my morning reading. I pulled out my book with scriptures and began reading… and as I read I was reminded again of God’s great love for me, and of His Spirit living in me. I started to be thankful. And now I was sorry and asked for forgiveness for complaining.
I did what I could to help my roommate by giving her a few things she wanted (I was allowed to get up on my own by now). Breakfast time soon came and a nurse came and took her to the dining room as I followed behind slowly with my walker. I hadn’t been sitting down very long when I realized the room was noisier than usual. I started to listen and realized that the only thing I was hearing were complaints! It seemed like everyone had something to complain about.
“Nurse, I don’t want to sit with her,” one patient pointed to another.
“Where is my pain medicine?”
“I want milk in my coffee, how can you not have mild today?”
As the complaints grew in sound, the nurses and aides would start to try to do something or explain why, and suddenly it seemed like everyone was yelling at everyone else. It was as though a spirit of complaining had fallen on everyone! And perhaps it had. I prayed, and gave thanks to God that He’d rebuked my complaining earlier – I did not want to contribute to this atmosphere!
Alone in my room afterward, and mulling over the experience, I realized that it didn’t matter why everyone was complaining, what mattered was my choice: would I join in or would I be able to pray in my spirit and give thanks to God for His good gifts? I realized that I consistently needed to make the right choices, and that if I would do that, God would do the rest.
A lesson then and in retrospect
I’m home now, and I’ll be honest. It hasn’t been easy. Yes, people have visited and helped me. In fact, all through this entire experience, from November 9 until now, every single time I’ve needed physical help from a person, that help has been there – many times BEFORE I asked!
But being by myself, I realize that it is a lot easier to lose sight of what I learned. I am eager to get back my physical independence – a good thing – but I’m grumbling more at my weaknesses – a bad thing. And then I grumbled when I overdid things, pulled a muscle, and having reached a point where I only needed a small cane, had to go back to using my walker for almost a week!
Needless to say, my planned return to work was postponed – again. So now I have to take things slowly and consistently. I realize I can only do this with trust and by relying on my wonderful Savior. My heart is starting to understand what I’ve known but resisted in my head – control is an illusion. I am totally and utterly helpless. I could not even breathe if God did not enable my lungs to function well.
Yes, it is true, I can do things to make my life and health better or worse, but I overestimate my control. Paul once wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). So often, like many other verses, we quote this without paying attention to the context.
“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.Philippians 4:11–13
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
I realize that this is just the beginning. Learning to give up my self-reliance is probably going to take a lifetime… but perhaps it will be easier now that I understand this important thing, my helplessness enables God’s strength to be seen in me. Given the choice, I do not want to go through this surgery – or any surgery, again. But that is not really up to me is it? My life is NOT in my hands, it is in God’s hands. In fact, God is the only one who is fully in control. Knowing that I am eternally loved by Him is just part of the journey. Perhaps that’s the easy part. The hard part is this, trusting Him completely for every part of the journey, and trusting in HIS strength and ability – not mine. As I think about this, my thoughts are drawn to the following passage. It reminds me that nothing happens in my life by accident, but within the providence of God. Thus, all I experience is for “Christ’s sake.” May it encourage you as it has me.
7 …so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. 8 Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. 9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ.2 Corinthians 12:7b–12
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Yeah, that’s a tough one. We think that we’re walking with God and then it’s like – hey, what’s going on here?
Sometimes we think that we gave it our all – but if it’s not with Jesus – it’s worth nothing. Other times we might have had past experiences when we did not have anyone that we were able to trust or we trusted the wrong people – and often it’s those we should have been able to trust – and got hurt. So it’s harder to learn to trust God.
But when we do learn to know and trust God – then He will make our paths straight. It’s a long hard process (or can be, it usually is) and we’ll finally learn to appreciate once we get Home.