We looked at our summer calendar at the beginning of 2016 and cringed. Packed to the brim, it seemed like those months would fly by in a blur. What did we decide to do in the midst of those crazy, busy, three months? Take a trip to Washington to see family and friends, of course! And not just any trip, but a three-week road trip that started and finished with 25-hour drives to our destination. Did we already mention ‘crazy’? Yup.
Seemingly endless days with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins stretched out into the late sunset, pushing bedtime further and further back each night. The county fair. S’mores. Bounce houses and water slides. Baseball games. BBQs. Swimming. Blackberry picking. Sleepovers. Food, food, and more food. We soaked in these quintessential, americana-laden moments under the soft summer sun.
It was the best three weeks we’ve spent in Washington in a long time. It was also the most physically painful three weeks I’ve had in recent memory. Starting with a wicked sore throat that hit me around midnight on our inaugural night of driving, to the massive cold sores that erupted around my mouth, not to mention the strange prickly, red rash I was recovering from that attached my neck the week before, it all culminated in waking up one morning with a stabbing, stiff pain in the left side of my neck and shoulder. No stranger to knots in my back, I went about my normal routine of massage and stretching, spending good portions of that day working out the kinks (literally). After a pre-bed session with a tennis ball and a wall (it works -try it!), I climbed into bed hoping for a great night’s sleep and a sore-but-loose back the next morning. What I got instead was an immediate lock-up of the muscles on that side of my neck and shoulder, and throbbing pain radiating from my neck, down the side of my scapula and out towards my elbow. Sleep? What sleep? More like measured breathing and deep sighs reminiscent of childbirth.
I tried icing it. I tried stretching it. I tried heat, rest, laying down, standing up. I tried it all. After about two days I couldn’t take it any more and searched out a massage therapist…and then a chiropractor…and then another visit to the chiropractor. The pain would not go away.
Sleep was nearly impossible. I woke up more than I slept. One night I lay in bed, trying to move as little as possible, breathing deeply and trying to manage the pain. I turned my thoughts heavenward and asked, “Okay God. I give up. What can you teach me through this?” Almost immediately, an image flashed in my mind. It looked something like this:
I turned my thoughts back into a prayer and asked, “What does that mean?” As soon as the sentence finished forming in my mind, a story began to unfold.
I am in a big room. Tall ceilings, lots of space. A bank of light switches in one corner. There are lights everywhere but only a few are turned on. This room represents God’s character. The absolute fullness of who He is. Every aspect of His being. The lights that are turned on symbolize my knowledge of who God is. God is loving. God is merciful. God is forgiving. Those familiar characteristics that I easily identify and understand. But what about the lights that were turned off? And the bank of light switches? Here is where the pin dropped for me.
Pain and suffering can illuminate an aspect of God’s character that I might have never noticed before.
Does my situation change who God is? Of course not. It does provide an opportunity for me to flip a switch, thus pouring light where shadows had previously existed. His character is made known to me in new ways. He becomes my healer, my redeemer, my strong tower, my warrior, my jealous lover. He has always been and always will be, but I never needed to know until now.
In my mind’s eye I watched as the light switches were turned on one by one and the room began to glow brighter than ever before. The questions poured through my mind. How many switches do I ignore, content to know God in the measurable, limited ways I’ve always known Him? How often do I run from challenges because I value my comfort more than the expansive illumination of an infinite God? Will the pain ever be so great that I slam the lights off and leave the room?
Eventually, my shoulder and neck healed. It took weeks of cautious movements, slowly building strength, for everything to begin to feel normal again. While I am so thankful to move without pain, I often think back on those three weeks. Deep gratitude. Deep revelation. The lights are on.