One of the days in Bolivia that I will never forget was a day spent sorting through corn kernels. It wasn’t the corn that made it memorable, but rather the sound of a girl sucking on her tooth. Weird beginning to a story, I know! The girl was about our age and it was her family that we were helping for the day. She explained to us that she had a toothache, but other than that quick mention of her pain, she never complained as she worked all day and hosted us college girls.
We felt so bad for her. All day long, we could hear that sound of a person trying to get just a moment of relief. We did not see that girl again after that day, but we shared her situation with our field supervisor later. Our field supervisor explained to us that the girl’s family most likely would not have the money for an extra trip into the city, much less money to pay a dentist. The hardest part for me to hear, for some reason, was that these families usually did not even have access to ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
I thought of that girl the next year when I found myself in need of a root canal. The nerve pain was the worst pain I had ever experienced to that point, but I only had to endure about a week of it before the root canal. During those days of intense pain, I was so grateful for Tylenol. I was also so grateful to know that my pain would have a definite end, since a skilled professional would soon take care of the problem. Mentally, knowing that this pain would soon end made it more bearable. I thought of that girl in Bolivia, sucking on her tooth, with no Tylenol and no way of knowing how or when her pain would end.
I think that experience, of hearing the evidence of her pain all day long, and then experiencing the same pain myself, was my first adult lesson about physical pain. I have since learned that there is always a lesson in the midst of my physical pain. When my feet hurt after walking the entire zoo path at the NC Zoo, I am reminded of the privileges I have to use disposable income for fun family experiences. When I am alone in the night, miserable with nausea and pain from some stomach bug, I am gifted just a moment’s understanding of what chemotherapy patients are battling. When Fibromyalgia pain is at its worst, it teaches me all kinds of lessons about family, perseverance, priorities, and grace.
These lessons extend even to my sons’ pain. It hurts me so much to see you or one of the twins in pain. In those moments of wishing I could take the pain for you, I am reminded of the purest love that would accept another person’s torment so that she does not have to endure it herself.
Through all of this, I see that pain is my teacher. The lesson gives meaning to the pain. And sometimes my own pain can even be sweet when I realize that the lesson is for someone else. Without revealing personal details of students’ home lives, I can tell you I truly believe that some of the days when I had to limp around my classroom, it was all about particular students receiving a message that when adults are in physical pain, it does not give them a right to be mean to children. Sweeter still is the idea that my own sons might be better men if they see their mother endure physical pain with grace.
Sometimes, the “why” behind the pain is revealed. When I had such intense pain that a doctor was sure I had appendicitis, a scan instead revealed a tumor that otherwise might have only been discovered under much worse circumstances. The tumor did not cause me pain at that point, and the terrible mystery illness that led to its discovery was actually a gift. I think that sometimes we get to see the “why” so that in other times, we can trust that there is purpose in our pain when days are dark and we can’t seem to find a lesson anywhere.
As you go through life, remember that physical suffering presents an opportunity to be pain’s pupil. Be willing to learn its lessons. Accept pain with grace, but also remember that how you treat your body can absolutely reduce or increase physical pain. Also remember that all around you, there will be people fighting their own battles with physical pain. They will also be fighting the mental battles that come with that pain.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, in terms of how much physical pain I will face with Fibromyalgia, or with other lessons in pain that may come my way. I can tell you that I want to keep learning through pain and be an example to you and the twins. Of course, I battle fear about how bad my pain might become. I battle the fear of Brandon, you, and the twins having to take care of me.
I confess that I do not always handle my physical pain with grace. I don’t always trust God as I should, and sometimes I am a very stubborn student. But I try to let physical pain actually improve my life through the lessons I learn. I also try to remember that my pain now is preparing me for the next life. Singing the hymn “Because He Lives” takes on a whole new meaning, especially that line “I’ll fight life’s final war with pain” that I didn’t really understand when I was your age. Out of brokenness comes life and beauty.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9
I love you forever,