I recently endured a five and a half week long hospital stay due to emergency open abdominal surgery, that has resulted in a complicated and challenging recovery. I spent three weeks in the main hospital after surgery, then was transferred to the rehab hospital where I spent two and half weeks relearning how to do tasks and regaining strength as I worked with therapists for three to six hours a day. In each hospital room there is a whiteboard with places to write my discharge goals, my restrictions, my nurse's name, my respiratory therapist's name, doctor's name, physical therapist's name, and so forth. With each of my hospitalizations, I select a Scripture passage that is encouraging to me as I work on the recovery process and write it on the board. This serves a dual purpose to encourage both myself and staff members of the hospital. It's a great conversation starter to share the hope of Christ! During my stay at the rehab hospital, I asked my sister in law to write Philippians 4:4-5 on my whiteboard.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." ~ Philippians 4:4-5 (NIV)
I selected these verses as frustration, anger, and sorrow are often quick to set in when one is battling a myriad of health challenges. I knew rehab would be physically hard and emotionally draining as the plan was to do therapy for three to six hours a day, results would not be necessarily quickly attained, and goals would not be where I wanted them. Most days ended with me being so utterly exhausted, yet dealing with pain, so sleep and rest were lacking. Some days I got very discouraged and felt I was not gaining any progress when therapy sessions would hit a wall of limitations. Other days, I was unable to do therapies due to severe pain or dizziness and blood pooling from my dysautonomia. As a broken human, I often wished for a punching bag and tears flowed quite easily throughout the day and especially at night when all was said and done with the day's work. Yet every morning and evening, I would make it a point to redirect my eyes to the whiteboard in front of my bed and read and meditate on the phrase, "Rejoice in the Lord always." Always. This word was the real kicker. Rejoice when I was struggling in physical therapy sessions. Rejoice when I had to do five respiratory treatments a day. Rejoice when I was in immense pain in my back and abdomen. Rejoice when I was lonely at night. Rejoice when I was tired of being in the hospital. Rejoice when I would snap and utterly despise my life and chronic illnesses. "Joy" is the root word of "rejoice." In Greek, "rejoice" translates into "Favorably disposed to God's grace." Unlike happiness, which is rooted in temporary instances, joy is rooted in an imperishable matter. The only imperishable existent that breeds both joy and hope and is rooted in grace is the Lord Jesus. This Scripture passage requires my mindset to be shifted from my circumstances and refocused to acknowledge the Lord, the blessings He's given me, His numerous promises, His salvation of my soul, and ultimately rejoice in who He was as Prince of peace who would lead me beside still waters. The Lord Himself and all of these gracious gifts from Him could not be erased by my ephemeral challenges, thus rejoicing had ability take place at any time as long as I made the effort to stop and think and praise the everlasting Lord and rejoice in Him. Rejoicing would lead to reflection of the goodness He had granted that day such as ability to have high quality medical care that was better than the main hospital, a lightweight wheelchair to use, strength to wash and braid my hair, having my heating pad for pain relief, enjoying a hot bowl of soup, and kind friends and family who loved me enough to come visit and encourage me in my fight. Such grace shown to an undeserving soul! This quick reflection and rejoicing would often lead to longer reflections of the merciful goodness God had done in my life overall thus far. These reflections and subsequent rejoicing in the Lord calmed and soothed my anxious and hurting heart, and helped pull me out of an emotional rut to place my feet back on the solid Rock versus collapsing under the weight of my situation.
"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands." ~ Psalm 143:5 (ESV)
The second portion of the passage I chose would remind me to be gentle with my words and actions when I would get flustered or upset at the staff. Frustration at medical staff unfortunately occurred more often than not as there were many instances where they would not perform my care correctly, dose medications late, cancel therapy sessions, interrupt a nap or night of sleep for treatments, and stress me out from being in my room constantly to help coordinate my care. Most days I just wanted to sleep or have time to myself! Yet, being snappy at staff was just not beneficial to them or me, and more importantly, was not reflective of Christ nor expressing the fruits of the Spirit: gentleness and patience. I would constantly read this portion of the passage written on my board to help me remember to tame my tongue and quell any sharp actions. Gentleness is vital to accurately reflect God's character to others.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." ~ Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
The third phrase of the verse was vital to me as I often feel so alone due to absence of access to my loved ones while at the hospital and feeling utterly alone in my battle against my own body. "The Lord is near." This powerful verse states an immovable promise that the Lord is near...there is not a circumstance where He is not right there with me, guiding me, protecting me, and refining me. Refocusing on this vital promise reminded me of God's immense love for me, and spurred me on as I remembered and dwelled on the fact that I did not fight my battles alone, even if I felt I did, and I could proceed with courage as I worked to ensure my actions and thoughts glorified the Lord. What a wonderful promise from the Lord!
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." ~ Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
There will be countless circumstances in life where realigning our heart and mind with the character of Christ will be required to rejoice. I fail so often to rejoice, to be gentle, and to remember that the Lord is near me. I get bogged down in my circumstances and tears of pain wash away any ounce of joy and I feel as though God has forgotten me. Life is so so hard, yet our God, the Creator of the universe who has overcome the world and its troubles, is greater than any trial we will encounter, thus we can trust Him fully that He will use our fiery trials to refine our faith and for His good and perfect will, and He will pave our paths with His grace and lovingkindness, guiding our every step along the journey. When we encounter trials, rejoicing is not usually the first action to occur. But if we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, then we can run the race with excellence and rejoice in who God is as He guides, supports, and protects us. Christ endured the worst pains of all when He bore all our sins on the cross so that we may have salvation from the wages of sin, which is death. His pains were used for unfathomable good...they saved all of mankind from inescapable death and separation from our Savior. Know that our tribulations are so minimal compared to His, they are temporary, and will also be used for good. When all is said and done here on earth, there will be a magnificent ending to this life when we are reunited in our real home of Heaven with our Lord and trials will cease. What a glorious day to imagine and anticipate! I truly can't wait for it to come. Until then, refocus and rejoice!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." ~ Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)