Late this July, I endured a traumatic situation where a necessary 911-call resulted in a midnight ambulance ride to the trauma hospital in downtown Charlotte to receive major emergency open abdominal surgery for repair of a volvulus, which is a twisting and flipping of the small intestine. I was hours away from dying if I didn't have the surgery, yet I was not quick to jump to choose to have this surgery. I had just had a major abdominal surgery a year ago where my large intestine was removed and a feeding tube was placed. Complications had lasted for months, and the recovery was still ongoing. How was I supposed to manage sliding all the way back to square one…or square zero…by having yet another major abdominal surgery with an even longer recovery and more limitations created? I had worked SO hard to get to where I was physically. It was not the ideal place to be physically, but it was tolerable and permissible to do activities I love, and having this surgery would kill all progress I had made. Nevertheless, despite all these thoughts of frustration and anger, I chose to have the surgery, but between the semi-consciousness from meds and sepsis, and the unfamiliarity with this kind of surgery, I was not quite really fully aware of the harsh impact and kind of wreckage the surgery was about to have on my body.
After the surgery, so many frustrating issues would arise as I would attempt menial tasks and fail. I reached for my laptop, but the attempts to pick it up strained my abdomen too much, so I had to have my mom hand it to me. I dropped my socks on the floor and couldn’t reach my “picker-upper” device, so I had to use the call button jsut to ask the nurse to pick up my socks. I continued to struggle with increasing my tube feeds rate to reach my goal rate in order to provide enough calories and protein for my body to heal, so I used TPN for 2-3 weeks and only tolerated small amounts of tube feeds and liquids. When physical therapy worked with me in the hospital, I would get so frustrated from minute and slow progresses accompanied by increased pain with my therapy. It was almost impossible to stand and support myself on the walker as I used my shoulders, arms, and core to carry all my weight. My back, core, and joints hurt terribly with trying to stand and walk, and tears usually followed these therapy sessions. Later on, I also paid for it with development of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and hands, resulting in the long term necessity to wear wrist braces nightly to relieve pressure off the nerves and reduce inflammation. Taking steps was an even bigger challenge as the pain of holding my core upright, and any attempts of moving my legs, which were already severely weakened and numb due to dysautonomia, connective tissue disease, and myopathy, was exhausting and tear-inducing. Whenever I wished to use the restroom or move to a wheelchair, I had to push the call button to have a nurse come in and help lift me out of bed, which thoroughly destroyed any ounce of dignity left. With my daily blood work, I hoped for improvements, but my blood counts remained highly imbalanced, which made me feel awful. There are many more challenges that filled my days and nights, but you get the idea. The road of recovery seemed impossible. Tears accompanied most activity, while boredom, discouragement, loneliness, and agitation quickly set in as roommates in my solitary hospital room. Movies seemed dull, books were uninteresting, and frankly the only thing I desired was company from my friends and family, snuggles from my service dog, and desperately wanted a fast return to my previous abilities. I heavily related to David's mourning that he expressed in Psalm 42:3.
"My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, 'Where is your God?'” ~ Psalm 42:3 (ESV)
One evening, my new friend and fellow sister in Christ, Judy, called and we chatted on the phone for about an hour. After a bit of time into the conversation, Judy asked me a question that required vulnerability and raw emotion. “How are you handing all of this, and where are you at with things?” Typically, I would respond with the “I’m okay” reply that glazes over all negative emotion and moves beyond the unveiling of reality of the pain in my heart. It’s just so much easier to glide past the pain with a smile. It’s almost expected by society to be okay 100% of the time, and sometimes I love to conform to that as protects others from the sharpness of my pain and protects me from vulnerability. Yet, I could tell by Judy's pressing tone, that my “I’m okay” response would not suffice as an answer. Timidly, I shared with her that I was quite discouraged, and mourning how I had lost so much ability to do things, how I was back in the awful position of battling my body that was trying to kill me, and the overall extremely disheartened mood was draining. I was trying so hard to achieve my goals of recovery, and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I would try to walk ten feet with the walker holding me up and my physical therapist supporting me, but would almost fall over or feel like I would pass out, requiring me to sit down and could not go on any further. I would try my best to make the rate of my tube feeds go up at the urging of my doctors, but would get sick and have to drop the rate back lower, which made me feel like I let my medical team down. I shared with her that I simply didn’t see the point in continuing to do all this hard work that simply led to tears and pain with no results of progress. I was broken and beat down, and running into walls everywhere. I wanted grandiose steps in the right direction: ability to walk a few feet without the walker, ability to get out and bed, get ready, and use the bathroom independently, ability to tolerate my full goal rate of tube feeds and get off the TPN, ability to roll onto my side and grab the rail to sit up so I could get out of bed without a nurse picking me up, ability to wash my hair in the shower, ability to propel my wheelchair efficiently and painlessly, and the list goes on. None of these were being achieved, thus I felt like a failure. I had not lost my trust in the Lord, but I was confused and let down, and sorrow had settled comfortably in my heart where joy once lived. Judy shared something with me that stuck in my heart, and my hope is that it sticks in your heart as you go through your day to day life, especially as you endure trials. She told me, “Don’t overlook the manna.”
Let me expound on this. I was looking for a monumental provision: a miracle of 100% of my pre-surgery health returning, and this return occurring before the minimum of six months recovery time period. When the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years, they too were seeking a substantial provision: the grand exit from the dessert into the land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, they did not receive this promised land in the timing they desired, nor did they have the options of rich, filling foods like they had in Egypt. “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3). They fussed and complained, similarly to how I was discouraged and fussed about my lack of progress. Yet, despite being plunged into a difficult trial, the Israelites were not left alone nor deprived of a single provision. God provided the simple things, the vital things that would keep them going in their journey. He provided water from a rock, wisdom from Holy Spirit, shoes for their feet, long lasting clothing, pillars of fire and cloud to guide and protect, and manna as food from the sky. “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold Your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” ~ Nehemiah 9:20-21 (ESV) Similarly, while it perhaps was commendable to seek substantial progresses in my situation, it was even greater value to treasure and give thanks for the “manna” in my trial. Yet, I was overlooking the gift and miracle of my manna. God did not deprive me of the provisions I needed as was my misconception, instead, He was eager to fulfill my needs through His care. He provided medication for pain, family and friends for support, IV nutrition for nutrients, surgeons and infectious disease doctors to clear a nasty post surgery incision infection, a heating pad for my spinal pains, physical and occupational therapists to help me regain independence despite lack of mobility, and a custom pink wheelchair to help me get around much easier. Was it the monumental miracle I hoped for? No. Was it just the right amount of provision I needed? Yes. That moment by moment provision was a miracle alone. Providence.
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." ~ Matthew 10:29-31
In the time of the Israelites, the manna of modest supply was just as much a miracle as reaching the promised land full of rich wealth. Yet the manna was inappropriately overlooked as the Israelites craved greater action from the Lord to fit their plan versus His plan. They wanted a feast of rich meats, filling vegetables, and tasty seasonings to fill their hungry bellies, but God gave them flaky, white wafers that tasted like honey, and required work from the Israelites to collect the manna and grind, boil and bake it in order to eat it. Nevertheless, God used the manna as sustenance for a few reasons: to satisfy His hungry people (Nehemiah 9:20), to show His glory through gracious provision (Exodus 16:7), and to test His people in their obedience towards Him (Exodus 16:4). He wished to refine their character while also satisfying their bellies. He provided, just not in ways that the Israelites desired or expected, and the Israelites had to put some work in to uncover and use His benefits. So it is with us. It takes work to gather our daily manna and find ways to use it to glorify God, and ensure we allow the Lord to use the meager manna to refine our character and change our perceptive from seeing the manna as minimal to seeing it as monumental.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." ~ James 1:2-4 (ESV)
My friend encouraged me to find the manna in my difficult days, even if it was not what I desired or expected, and give thanks for the provisions as I press forward in my trial. I began to search, and found that there was manna of dear family and friends who visited, manna of knowledgable and familiar respiratory therapists, manna of small progresses such as progressive ability to get dressed and get ready for the day independently, manna of a pumpkin spice latte on a hard day, manna of a friend down the hall to talk to and encourage, manna of a rehab hospital to go to so I could regain independence, manna of a kind and sweet physical therapist, manna of a new wheelchair, and so many more instances of manna I could share. Some of the manna provisions required me to put in the work to harvest and find value in the manna, just as the Israelites had to gather and cook it daily. I had to put in the work for therapy to get any results, breathing treatments so I could breathe, surgical wound care so the infection could heal, tube feed management so I could receive nutrition, and more. When I began to focus on the manna of my days, the burdens, though still there, grew less important as being objects of my focus as I instead chose gratitude over grumbling. I began to seek ways to share my manna with others as I shared about the Lord and His hope, encouraged others in their despair, and tried hard to daily express gratitude to the family, friends, and healthcare workers who were walking alongside me down the rocky road of a difficult journey. Did I get the monumental miracle of my pre-surgery health returning before the minimum of eight months recovery time period? No, I did not. Four months later, I am still battling surgical pain, complications, fatigue, difficulty in mobility, medical PTSD, and very poor core strength. Nevertheless, God continues to give me daily manna, and still satisfies my every need with His lovingkindness. For His lovingkindness, I am most thankful!
I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.' Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." ~ Psalm 16:2, 9-11 (ESV)
When you find yourself bogged down in a trial and things are not going well, go seek and find your manna. Don’t overlook or snub the manna, even if you receive only manna for forty years in your desert. Share about the kindness of the Lord in giving you manna, and give thanks for the manna in your life. Don’t focus on the dismal happenings of this earth, but rather fix your eyes on Christ. Help others find their manna and lift their focus to the Provider. Be faithful in this ephemeral life to the Lord Most High who gives us our daily bread. He is enough, and He will supply enough for the moment.
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." ~ Philippians 4:19 (ESV)