Just to be honest, I have been working on this post for weeks and have not once completed it. (I'm not too sure this one is "complete," but I know I can write more along the way!) Why? Because my story is something that I have felt so called to share but have so, so badly wanted to push away, ignore, and hope that it just went away. I can truly not tell you how many times I have opened my laptop, typed, deleted, edited, shut the laptop, and walked away.
I’ve thought, why do I want to even share this? Is this too much? Why do I even care so much, I could just keep posting about fashion and good vacations? Nobody else seems to have all these big issues, so why can’t I just be the next girl on Instagram posting fun pictures and feel complete? What will people think of me? Will people think I’m exaggerating, or think I’m perfectly fine since I look like it on the outside? I have so obviously seen that shutting my laptop or questioning myself does not take the thoughts away, or make me forget about telling the story, and in a way it makes me feel even more behind. So, without any more doubt, worry, or questions, I am completing a piece of work that is long overdue.
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to start routinely going to church together! We have been together several times, but finally made the choice to stick with it and see where this simple journey takes us! The first Sunday we started our weekly journey on, I knew was handpicked by God because it spoke volumes to me. The sermon was preached about “vantage points,” and at the beginning, I had no idea what this meant. I quickly learned that a vantage point is a perspective that you have given a circumstance that you’re in that others don’t understand, therefore you can use it to help them. Also, God has a vantage point about our lives that we do not see, and He wants us to draw near to Him so that we can see our lives from His perspective. So, I knew that I had a vantage point that not many people I know at all would have, so the Lord has called me to share it.
I am fully inspired and engaged in my story by the quote from the sermon, “it will not be to make your name known, it’ll be to make God’s name great, because He sees some things about your condition, your season, your situation, that no one else sees. He sees further, deeper, he sees beyond even your situation.” So, this is my vantage point about my season.
When I was 12 years old, I was a member of ACE Cheerleading company in Birmingham, traveling at least 4 hours a week to work at my absolute hardest ability in competition cheerleading, with countless hours spent in-between at a local gymnastics company. I knew my future was so clear, as I always dreamed of being an Alabama cheerleader for as long as I could remember! Towards the end of that year, I suddenly had a muscle literally push out of my back, creating what looked like almost a cucumber sticking out of my back. With as much tumbling as I was doing at the time, everyone just thought I had a terrible muscle spasm. I should have been fine after taking some quick time off and sitting on the side for a couple of practices, but the pain only got worse.
After becoming in intolerable pain one night at ACE, I ended up in the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Alabama downtown Birmingham. After x-rays, I found out my spine was legitimately the shape of an “S.” In proper “scoliosis terms”, I was at a 42 -degree curve. Spinal fusion surgery is the only option when curvature reaches 45 degrees, because at this point the spine must be surgically fixed back to a straight position in order to live a normal, healthy life.
I was put into a hard-shell back brace, required for 10 hours every night. The brace was extremely tight and uncomfortable, but my family was drowning in prayers that this brace would be the solution. After a few long weeks, it became obvious through x-rays that my curve was only getting worse, and I became very obviously leaned to one side, and my left ribs were being pushed forward very painfully from my lungs due to the curve so there were lots of health risks at stake. My legs and feet were suffering nerve pain with lots of tingling, falling asleep, numbness, and even turning blue at times. My shoulders and shoulder blades burned and ached, and my back throbbed. I felt twisted and there was no comfortable position to be in whatsoever.
On July 22, 2011 at Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, my spine was fused and I could stand up straight and breathe normally. I even “grew” around 2 inches because of how curved my spine was before. After a 5 day stay in the hospital and lots of walking, learning, and recovering, I went home to begin a new life and become stronger through each day.
I was doing great until November of 2011, when my back began hurting uncontrollably. After a long visit to Vandy, a broken (unfused) vertebrae was found. The stress and weight of the metal above the vertebrae that were left untouched was too much, causing a stress fracture. The lower vertebrae were not touched in the first surgery because it would have left me with less flexibility and range of movement, so it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was normal practice. Back into another hard shell, except this time, 24 hours a day brace I went. I truly was forced to live life in a bubble, and pray endlessly that the bone would heal from the brace. Exactly as before, the brace was unsuccessful.
On February 1, 2012, my back was cut completely open symmetrically again, and 4 more vertebrae were added to the fusion, fixing the break with by replacing it with a cadaver bone. My scar became a little bit longer, and I went through basically the exact same few month recovery process at home. A few months later, a small fracture was found, but luckily after another (smaller) brace, it healed correctly.
In the hospital, nurses always ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10. For the past 7 years, I have lived life so normally, just with a pain of about 0.5-1 every day in my lower back. However, it is so tolerable and simply my “new normal.” There have been little precautions I have taken for 7 years (because none have been required!) besides things that have direct impact or jarring. God has been so merciful and so gracious and my body has been so strong and so healthy.
This summer, though, I have felt a feeling I’ve tried so hard to ignore, a back pain that is not my normal. Throughout the past 7 years, I have had several 2-3 week bad phases where I’ve overdone it, had muscle spasms, trouble sleeping, pain from rain and especially cold weather, but nothing has gotten me down. I have learned so, so many ways to cope with my pain, from rounds of physical therapy, to a heated mattress topper, to weekly deep tissue massages, to heat-wraps from CVS to wear in the winter. Sadly, this summer, my back pain became something I could stand to tuck away any more, as it became significantly worse the first week of July.
I was waking up each morning in an unexplainable pain after simply sleeping, and even had a terrifying episode once by waking up at 4 am with the worst pain I have ever felt in my legs and feet, which is caused by a nerve pain rooting from my back. Then, extreme hip pain and shoulder blade pain came along, and a few more of my old symptoms, so I knew I had to go see my doctor at Vandy.
On July 5th, I spent all day at Vanderbilt consulting with my same surgeon, and after x-rays and a CT scan, the unexplainable news had to be told. I am feeling this pain because the vertebrae that were fused from the second surgery never healed correctly, like the ones from the first did. After a fusion, the bones eventually grow around and bond with the metal, resulting in one stable and strong spine. With these lower fusions, they have basically come loose due to the failed healing, and I will be having yet again another back surgery. This is so rare and did not happen because of really anything except the way my body reacted. I have not done something to make this occur, and the surgeons did not mess up in any way. So, just like the others, the surgeons put together a plan for fixing the issue in late August!
Even though physically, this journey has been painful and exhausting, it’s also a difficult mental journey. At a young age, it was never “cool” to be the girl who wore a back brace, or the girl who had a scar down her whole back. There have been so many times I just wanted to crawl into a hole after someone asks what happened to my back. To be completely honest, I usually just say, "I had surgery," and try to change the subject. It's not offensive or even out of place to ask me what happened, I'm an extremely curious person myself, but I have never felt accepting of my story. I never usually bring it up to anyone besides close family or friends, and generally just haven't enjoyed talking about it because I have looked at it as a flaw. It still isn’t "cool", but it’s much easier now that I’ve grown up to hold small conversations about scoliosis surgery (even though I never mention 2, now 3 surgeries and make myself out to be the model scoliosis patient). I so vaguely remember the endless elephant tears I cried because I could not be normal.
Why me, God? Why can I be so nice and so active in church, but nothing works out for me? Why do I have to watch my friends live so normally while I face a mountain sized struggle while I am a tiny girl? It was probably the hardest part of my entire journey to watch girls become junior high cheerleaders, because I so badly just wanted to be a school cheerleader, too. It was so hard to be the girl that had to have two sets of textbooks, one for home and one for school, because I wasn’t allowed to carry the weight of a backpack at all. I felt like every moment I received accommodation or special treatment that I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had to leave class 5-10 minutes early every day because I couldn’t take the risk of being bumped into or knocked down in the midst of hallway and locker madness. I could not do regular P.E., and even though now these things seem so simple or so small, at the time, they were the biggest stones I ever had thrown my way.
The seventh grade was so very hard for me because it is so hard for kids at this age to understand what was going on and how I felt. Luckily, my family and close friends helped me through every minute of it, from visiting the hospital, to sending cards and goodie baskets, and everything in between! As I recovered, life got much better and I did not have to go through that anymore. Looking back at such a chaotic time, I am thankful for every minute of it and I can so confidently say that I would not be the person I am today if I would have lived my life plans versus God’s. God knew what he was doing when he made me grow up a little faster and face challenges a little bigger, because now I am so confident in struggles and accept challenges with open arms.
I have learned so much and built so much character from my past, but I have always had the mindset of “I’m so glad I overcame that, but now I’m fine forever” kind of like a, “yeah God, we got through that together, but we’re good now, make sure I don’t have to face that challenge again.” I still struggle with easy embarrassment with my situation and especially my scar, but I’ve chosen to put it behind me and even more, ignore it, rather than using it to testify for God. The Lord probably tried to prepare me for this and I probably glanced right over it, but I wasn’t ready for this.
I thought I had finally become just the girl I had always dreamed of being. I’m an EXTREME planner, so I thought for a while my life was going perfectly by my plans. I’ve made good grades, become so close with amazing friends, figured out my career plans for the next little while, held a job that I love, basically had everything under my control, what more could I ask for? I did not realize, but I had almost taken advantage of the fact that I had everything I could hope for and not been so close in my relationship with God. Many nights I’ve forgotten to pray, or effortlessly missed out on church, because I’ve been living exactly how I’ve wanted to, with little to no issues or struggles at all.
It’s so easy to forget to live life with God when there are no struggles, but so unbearable to live without Him when there are. I saw a quote that hit me so hard not long ago that said, “pray to God even after he gives you what you were praying for.” Sure, I love to listen to the Highlands soundtrack in my car and save Bible verses and Christian quotes on social media, but I was not pushing in for God to use me or ask anything from me.
I firmly believe that God knew what he was doing when he allowed me to bear the news that I’m having back surgery again. Do I think that God all of the sudden spun my life plans and added in a surprise medical emergency? No, of course not, but I do believe my Earthly personality walked away from God’s pathway, and the timing of this came before I had gone too far. God so graciously stopped me in the middle of my “perfect” life and showed me that I can’t do it without Him. God put in front of me, at a time that is not ideal at all, an un-ignorable challenge, to show me that my life is so much more than MY plans, and that I need Him in my life so much more than I need anything else.
At this point, I thought I had it perfect, but God’s showing me that the best is yet to come. In God’s eyes, I know that I am in no way ready to settle and live easily and perfectly for the rest of my life. He will use me, I have not completed my job yet. I am here for a reason and I have not fulfilled my calling, yet. God knew this and I may not have, but now I know He will use me when it’s time, whether I’m ready or not. My “perfect” will never compare to how amazing His future plans are for me.
I find peace in the thought that God knows that what may have seemed perfect for me recently will be only a small glimpse of His true plan for me. So, He created a plan for me to not be able to have the choice to live without Him anymore, because without God I can definitely say that there is no way I would even have the courage to walk into the hospital. I know that for the few hours I have been on the operating table both times, my body was on that table but my spirit was being so graciously washed, comforted, and refreshed in God’s hands alone.
One of the major things I have had to grow to learn in this journey is that other people have problems, too. I am the type of person that easily believes that there’s NO way the girls, bloggers, celebrities, people I follow on Instagram have to deal with the things that I do. It is SO true when people say comparison is the thief of joy, because I have struggled with this so much.
It takes extremely strong friendships, trustful people, and trusting God to learn that everyone has issues, everyone has problems, and nobody’s life is better than your own (no matter how untrue this may seem), because God, our God, did not create His children by rank or class. Not one person was blessed more than others (even those who are more sinful than others), and nobody’s throne in Heaven will be better than others. You are a child of the Almighty God, who loves you just as much as He loves the beautiful girl, or perfect family, or newlyweds, etc., that you just can’t seem to add up to. In God’s eyes, you are never the sum of your rights and wrongs, or your perfections and flaws.
Another thing I have learned is that there are so many times when God may seem not-so-gracious or confusing, but when you allow your mind to see a situation you have absolute zero control over, that there is no other explanation for the situation other than that God himself crafted the situation for your life with complete and utter purpose, He is so real and so alive. I have little fear, anxiety, regret, or worry about what is to come for me, and I am emotionally calm and happy that the Lord has touched my life in such a unique way, and this pours over to the times I do not feel calm or happy. I know that God is with me every single place that I go, and God will allow me to shine in a way that is unexplainable other than the explanation of His presence.
Am I perfectly fine? Absolutely not. But am I an emotional wreck? No, because I am not alone. By not being alone, don’t get confused with maybe my mom being with me, or loving friends, etc., because truly, there is no human or no material item that will ever satisfy us in times that are only made for the grace of God.
I have prayed so hard for months for God to show me my purpose, to show me my plans, and he has so miraculously answered my prayers. God is using me in such a way that I can only embrace; I have no other choice but to be strong and follow His lead. Though the pain is hard, God’s presence around me is so easy. I am no rookie to this process, but God is no rookie to planning beautiful and unique plans for each of His children.
Though this surgery will be no breeze at all, God knows me and knows that I grow and develop best in the midst of a challenge. He knew life was just too easy for me, and He knew I needed something to work for, something I could not do alone.
If you’re a life-planner like me, or just tend to be an organized and driven person, don’t let your own plans overshadow God’s. Sure, we can plan what our days, weeks, or months look like, but we cannot plan for the things we do not see, so we trust God to guide us through those things. Whether you may be like me and be living your ideal life, (or thought you were!) or you may be at rock bottom, don’t do it alone. God is so relevant and so needed in each and every wave of life. Let Him perform miracles at your worst, and draw even closer to Him at your best, in gratitude of His presence at all of your times. Embrace challenges and hold yourself accountable to never settle, allow God to uniquely use you to so willingly live out His plan versus your own. You are just not finished yet.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-5
“We are never so healed that we don’t need Jesus every single moment of every single day.”
“God works in surprising ways to make His love known and to accomplish His purposes- even during difficult times.”
“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I become the wounded person.”
“When you are browsing through images on Instagram, just remember that real life is in your heart. Pictures online will make you believe you are not enough, like you need to do something more. More exciting. More physically beautiful. Bigger than you are. It’s a lie. A net of fleeting fantasy. You are real. You are enough. Go be in the world and stop comparing yourself to the world’s selfies.”
“The most difficult time in your life may be the border to your promised land.”
“Please hear me, girl: the world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs more women who know how to do hard and holy things.”