My "Who but God?" Story

2:52 PMHeather

I was biting my lip.  Fighting back tears.  Frustrated.  Trying to hold it in.  Keep pretending.  Keep ignoring it.  But, I just couldn't.  The pain was too much.  As soon as Chris came to join me in the worship center, I let him know I needed to go home.  Immediately.  He took my hand and led me out from church, as I was working to avoid eye contact with anyone.  I didn't want to answer questions.  I didn't want to give in to it.  To be defeated by it.  But, that is exactly what happened the Sunday before last.  

I came home and melted into a hot bath, jacuzzi jets whirling.  Waiting for relief to come, I begged God for a word, a verse, some sort of encouragement.  I reminded him again how hard it was to wait.  Waiting for answers and open doors and relief from the sciatica pain that had crept in and was taking me over.  The truth is that for much of this past year, I've felt a silence from God.  Oh, no doubt that He has been revealing himself in a general sense.  No question that He has been showing himself to me.  But, in some specific circumstances, I've felt like I'm all alone in the dark.  And the silence, as I wait for His answers, has been deafening.  

As I floated in the water, I remembered once again the wisdom I'd gleaned from my friend Karen.  She spoke of those times in life when we feel God is silent and distant.  When we feel all alone in a dark and deafening silence.  When God feels so far away and we feel as though we've been forgotten.  She pointed to Exodus 33:21-23 for these seasons.  
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

When we think God is so far away, often He is just covering us with His hand.  He has us in a cleft of the rock, protected completely.  And only after the fact can we realize that His glory has passed by.  That He was, in fact, there all along.  And He was at work all along.  He had a plan.  The darkness was not his absence at all, but rather His presence.  

Keeping that in mind, I asked God that Sunday to please reveal His glory.  To please, quickly, answer my prayers to reveal Himself specifically as it related to the physical pain that had begun a downward spiral and become unbearable.  

Today, I want to tell you how He did just that.  Because it is truly a "Who but God?" story.  And I hope it encourages you, as it relates to whatever darkness is enveloping you. 
So, that Sunday was December 1st.  Two days later, I consulted with a local specialist about my sciatica pain.  I emailed my in-laws with the treatment options, as they were eager to know what the plan might be.  Within two hours, my mom-in-law let me know that their friend--a world renowned back neurosurgeon--had agreed to squeeze me in for a consultation.  In Houston.  You see, my husband and I had planned to fly to Houston that week for a quick twenty-four hour trip.  The Houston trip had been planned for months so that we could attend an event honoring my mother-in-law.  

Yes.  It just so happened.  And this amazing doctor just so happened to be willing to squeeze me on to his calendar.  We would just bump back our flight home by a couple of hours in order to see this doctor for a second opinion.  Except that the Dallas-Fort Worth area was about to be "entombed in ice," according to a local meteorologist.  That made me anxious about taking the trip at all.  What if we couldn't fly home?  What if we got stuck in Houston?  I was tempted to cancel the trip altogether.  But, we decided that it would be most beneficial to see this doctor--who has that kind of opportunity?  We lined up back-up care for our children and dog, should we be stuck in Houston due to weather.  

The trip to Houston went smoothly, exactly as planned.  But, the next morning, we overslept.  We literally had nine minutes to get up and ready and in the car, on the way to the neurosurgeon.  Somehow we managed.  Our flight had already been cancelled.  But we had made alternate flight arrangements to get home that day.  As we were taken back to the exam room, the alternate flight was cancelled.  
Now what?  It looked like we were, indeed, going to be stuck in Houston.  

The doctor came in and could not have been more personable and reassuring.  He took one look at the MRI and showed me what no one else had.  The bulging disc, my L5, which was sitting on my sciatic nerve, was actually ruptured.  Not just bulging.  I'd prayed for a crystal clear answer on treatment.  There we had it.  The surgeon said surgery was the only long term answer.  He looked me square in the eye, with an amazing bedside manner, and said, "I can see how bad this has gotten for you.  If you want me to do this surgery, I can change your life.  It's a quick procedure. And you'll have instant relief. You can fly home the day after."  

He went on to show me his brochure, showing the procedure that he himself had developed.  In fact, he has written eighteen text books on back surgery.  He speaks around the world on the topic.  He's widely published and well respected.  And oh--he just happens to have been a professor at Baylor University.  You know--our alma mater.  And this rock star of a back neurosurgeon was willing to take my case and perform my surgery, if I wanted to have it in Houston.  

We discussed timing to come to Houston and also options in Dallas. Then, Chris, in a bold move, purely teasing, said, "Well, you know, doctor, we can't get home today.  What are you doing this afternoon?"

I laughed.  Silly goose.  This doctor had already gone out on a limb to squeeze in my consultation.  I could only imagine how long it would take to get on his surgery schedule, and I imagined setting up child care for another Houston trip.  Because I had every confidence in this surgeon and had decided it'd be worth the trip to have him perform my surgery.

But the doctor shocked us and said, "I can do that.  Sure.  Yes.  If you want the surgery today, I can make that happen.  We'll just have to make a few calls.  I'll change my afternoon schedule."  

Who does that?  Who, but God?

And so it was.  This incredibly talented and gifted neurosurgeon moved heaven and earth and changed his schedule in order to squeeze me in for surgery.  He fought a small battle with the hospital about the fact I'd eaten a protein bar that morning.  "Don't worry," he said.  "I'll fix that problem.  It won't be a problem at all."

I wasn't getting back home anyway.  He said I could fly home the following day.  It would be a twenty to thirty minute procedure, immediate relief, all outpatient, and then I could be discharged within a couple hours.  Flying home the following day.  

Who but God?

So, the nurse practitioner herself walked us through the gigantic maze of the medical buildings to take us straight to admissions.  A family friend offered to go buy me some comfortable clothes and to bring us a car.  I'd only packed for one overnight--no recovery clothes included.  And every precious nurse and person we met at the hospital could not have been more kind, more reassuring, more wonderful.  

And so it was.  I've been dealing with sciatica pain, off and on, for two years.  The first year, it was mostly "off."  The second year, it was mostly "on."  And getting worse.  Despite my best efforts to stay fit, ice, stretch, and handle the pain.  Debilitating pain.  Chronic pain that was taking a toll on me emotionally and spiritually.  Stubborn as I can be, I'd finally relented that I needed to do something.  I had been wrestling with treatment options.  Which was the best route?  Injections?  Or surgery?  When to do it?  Who would care for the kids?  How could we work it all out?

There was no time for second guessing.  Because there, in the dark cleft, He lifted his hand.  And I saw His glory passing by.  Without a doubt.  Because who but God uses an ice storm, a gutsy husband, a willing surgeon, and every last needed detail in order to answer my cry?

I woke up in recovery last Friday without a hint of sciatic pain.  None.  Immediate relief, as promised.  Discharged just hours after surgery, Chris and I went to my in-laws' apartment for two nights.  Our kids and dog were well cared for by sweet friends.  Yes, in fact, as the metroplex was entombed by ice.  And I was able to fly home less than forty-eight hours post surgery, on one of the only flights that got into DFW that day.  

That is my "Who but God?" story.  Who but God is divinely plotting every last detail, to put everything in place, just as it needs to be?  So that I could see His glory.  From a dark place of silence, He shouted His glory and revealed His answers with an exclamation point.   Indeed, He is acting on behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).  I've got a little incision scar to prove it.

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