The Wonders of His Love, Part 1
31 Days of Reflection
|Emily Sue Allen||Jan 1|
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
(1/31) - This is possibly going to be a messy, over-share kind of experience. I apologize in advance. No matter how much I’ve tried to be a chill, easygoing writer, I keep returning to solemn, deep thoughts that just don’t seem to jive with social media soundbites, and don’t belong next to political rants or quarantine life posts. I’ve stayed mostly quiet online this year, tended my real-life responsibilities, and tried to occasionally post snapshots of simple stuff without any risky words that might publicly expose my big, messy feelings.
I’ve been waiting for a good time to begin sharing what God has been doing in my life, hoping I’ll reach a point where I feel like it's all tied-up and tidy, but so far that time hasn’t presented itself. I don’t know where to start. I have so much to say. And I have to be real: I wish this chat could be over coffee (well—hot cinnamon tea), in the same room, with hugs after I bawl my eyes out from sharing what has radically changed my life in ways I am just starting to be able to articulate. But here we are. On the socials. Figuring out virtual friendship.
I’ll be straight and tell you I have been in an extended suffering season. It started in September 2018 and hasn’t let up since…every few months a new variety enters the picture and I find myself in a fresh search for my bearings. I’ve tried strategizing my way out of the struggle zone, but my shenanigans haven’t worked. It’s been lonely. Heavy. Add in covid times…You get it. But even in the struggle, God has been my refuge in real ways. I have learned so much. About Him. About me. And I have started to see at least some of His purpose in leading me through this seemingly endless desert experience.
Grief and hardships are piling up for many people. Everywhere I look, I see hopelessness, discouragement, and fear. I continue to hear about people in truly heartbreaking circumstances. Times are tough.
I hope to share with you throughout this next month how Jesus has met me in this season with His truly personal, gentle, compassionate care. It’s not feel-good, fake Jesus-y stuff. It is true, substantial hope and unexpected wonders found in the bare, raw, weary places.
“Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5
(2/31) - About six weeks ago, we moved into a new house. We arrived to a regal tree full of wispy green leaves and pleasant, dappled shade stretched across the entirety of the front yard. It was dreamy.
The trunk split to a Y about my eye level, and a little further up, split again into several more sizable branches. By every visual metric, it looked to be a healthy tree. Full and green, tall and wide.
This is something like where I was in the summer of 2018. I had six beautiful kids, and felt pretty on top of life. I looked to be a healthy woman in my thirties: arms full and wide with a colorful bunch of children. I did not see disaster coming. I did not know I would encounter the most difficult season of my life just ahead. I also didn’t know then (as I know now) that God went before me and that He would be with me while life as I knew it broke down.
Three days after we moved into this house, snow fell for 8 hours straight. The lush green we had arrived to disappeared under six inches of powdery fluff. I looked out the front window to see a high branch of the tree in the yard bent shockingly low to the ground—I could have reached my hand up to touch with my own fingers (it had previously been well above the roofline). It didn’t cross my mind at that moment that the branch could snap right off, but that’s exactly what it did a few hours later. Down it came, forever changing the shape of the tree.
This is what happened to me. I had a clot in my right lung for 9 days before it was diagnosed—a medical event that claims many people’s lives. I almost died and I’m still processing more than two years later. I think about it every day. I regularly wrestle with equal parts grief and gratitude. Grief for how life changed on that day in the hospital, in both hard and good ways. Gratitude for the gift of life, the presence and peace of Jesus in the midst of my personal disaster, and for the opportunity to discover a kind of love I’m not sure one can know in easier times.
“My peace I give to you.” John 14:27
(3/31) - The first sign things weren’t quite right came as a weird pain in the middle of my back on one side. I first noticed it as I woke up on a Saturday morning. It felt like a tweaked rib or something. When I maintained an upright position, the pain was bearable. I still felt it, but could more or less go about my business, which is exactly what I did. I dressed, ate breakfast, and tried to let the weekend unfold the way all the normal weekends do. I stretched, took deep breaths, straightened my posture. But every time I reclined even the slightest little bit, the pain shot through the same delicate spot. I couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t alarmed. I was annoyed.
I decided I would just sit upright. Rest upright. Sleep upright. I thought for sure it would resolve itself in a day or two if I just let it be. Over a few days I became more worn down, sluggish. I found it difficult to do normal household things. I couldn’t recline or lie down at all. I withdrew into an internal mental space, trying to focus through the pain when it was high—not too different from coping through contractions in labor.
As days passed, I tried a number of things to reduce the pain. When I managed to stay upright, I was mostly ok. When I tried to relax, the pain increased. I couldn’t pin it down. It didn’t make sense. My stamina for standing or any movement that required reaching diminished. I tried pushing through for a week. When I coughed up blood twice in a 24 hour period, I realized I needed help. Doctors. And also God. Seems like I should have known sooner, but I didn’t.
I was 35, and a pulmonary embolism was definitely not on my radar. But I have to say, I was truly not freaking out. Not when I went to the ER. Not when I sat in triage for six hours and had x-rays, vein ultrasounds, and half a dozen blood draws. I had my questions, but I also had a weird, unexplainable peace. The presence of God. It turns out, peace is real, and I had it despite the intense physical pain I was feeling in those uncertain hours.
“The cords of death encompassed me and the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!’” Psalm 116:3-4
(4/31) - It’s exhausting to hold yourself up—literally upright—with no reprieve for 9 days. It’s also exhausting to live your whole life that way. Perhaps I haven’t yet said, but I was also 10 weeks pregnant with our seventh child. Over the phone my husband had asked if I wanted him there with me at the hospital. I’d said no, I was fine. I could wait til he was off of work. Two dear friends juggled the care of my six kids at home.
An x-ray revealed abnormal tissue in my lung, narrowing the possibilities down to a clot, a tumor, or any of several other serious lung conditions. They could see enough to know there was something, but more sophisticated imaging was needed to confirm. I was still weirdly peaceful under the fluorescent lights of the triage room.
There were beeps, the sound of carts being wheeled down the hall, and patients in nearby rooms moaning or crying while I sat alone, waiting for answers. A tall man in scrubs came to take me three floors up for a CT scan. He pulled up the sides of the hospital bed, and wheeled me out through two sets of double doors to a dimly lit hallway. The relative darkness around me felt like a bit of a shock and poked a small hole in my peace-bubble. I started feeling rather uneasy.
He pushed a few elevator buttons and delivered me through another set of doors to a room with big machines. Fear assaulted me at the door. A nurse guided me through taking an unpleasant dose of liquid barium, explained they’d try to protect the baby, but they couldn’t guarantee anything. She asked me to sign a waiver on the spot and told me to lie down flat for the scan. I didn’t want to because: stabbing pain. It wasn’t a choice. Take a breath and hold it, she said. I could not do it. I could not breathe. A wretched climax of pain and terror overtook me. Pain pounded through me like nothing I have ever experienced. I broke into wincing, heaving sobs. I wished my husband was there. I wished God was there, because it seemed like He wasn’t. I have never felt more alone or more terrified. I thought, this is death. A black abyss. And I’m falling in.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From His temple He heard my voice and my cry to Him reached His ears.” Psalm 18:6
(5/31) - My eyes were shut tight during the scan, and I could not cope with the extreme pain, but truly, the moment was most memorable for the loneliness I felt in it. I won’t say I was forsaken, because on this side of things, I know the truth about where God was during those exact minutes. That revelation comes later in the story. I will say, I have full-hearted compassion for anyone in a desperate circumstance who dares to ask the question, “God, where are You?”
It’s ok to ask the question. We cannot always see where He is with eyes shut tight and pain off the charts, whether it’s physical pain, emotional pain, or however hurt came to be part of the picture. I don’t believe God is offended by our honesty, nor our human limitations. Our needs are not a surprise to Him. Our honesty with Him and with ourselves is the whole point, even if it’s messy. What better question is there to ask in our total human brokenness? God, where are You? Maybe that’s all we are able to say when the waves are high and crashing.
If you’re in the dark, cry out to God. Ask Him where He is. Listen for His answer. I will be straight: for me it wasn’t a linear, rational, tidy road to discovery, but eleven months later, I had a supernatural experience that has changed my whole outlook on that day in the CT scan. Can’t get ahead of myself though.
I was admitted to the hospital for immediate interventions, pain relief, and a treatment plan with special pregnancy considerations. It involved blood-thinner injections I’d need to give myself every 12 hours for 9 months straight without fail, and I transferred care to a specialized maternal fetal medicine team.
It is incredibly profound to have been on the precipice of death; to know God spared my life and did not allow the abyss to swallow me. I am alive today because He wills it. I’ve grown to trust Him. Whatever He wills is what I want, even if I can’t make sense of it in real time; even if I do not think I can bear it. If suffering is the road You have for me, Lord, I say yes, and thank You, and blessed be Your name.