It started with a headache—and I don’t get headaches. I had just returned from leading a tour in Israel and had a sinus infection, so I wondered if that was the cause.
Yet anything that I could label a normal headache quickly escalated until, within a couple of hours, the pain in the left side of my head surpassed anything I had ever known. This was that number 10 on the pain scale the doctor asks you about, but so much more. I had shattered my left arm against a tunnel wall while cycling two years ago and that hurt nothing like this. Doctors had showed other doctors my arm as an example of what a torn-up mess it was, but it hurt nothing like this. I had given birth eight times, some without anesthesia and none of these were in the same league of pain that now left me debilitated on my bed. This was a pain of a 10++ or perhaps one not measured.
It was as if I was invited into a new reality that changed my paradigms of what pain could be. Have you heard the loudest sound you are capable of hearing? Or had the earth move so far beneath your feet that you are knocked down? Some experiences are beyond your idea of reality, and so you are flung out of your known world. There is a place of pain so cruel that you leave everyone behind. They have not been there before and wouldn’t want to come with you now. You are utterly alone.
As I lay there writhing on my bed, in my mind, I entered a war zone with flashing explosions all around me. It was dark except for the explosions that lit up the sky with orange streaks of the deadly carnage they had left behind. I was dressed as if for a war, and I also seemed to be one of the targets. Grenades kept exploding in my head—one after another, after another, after another. I wasn’t sure why all the grenades landed on my head, but they wouldn’t let up. The noise of battle, the explosions all around me and the endless, relentless pain that shocked me and left me breathless became a constant.
I remembered Dante’s words on the gates of hell, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” which one could not read without hearing anguished screams around him. The entrance to my world of pain was more like “Abandon all respite from pain, all those who enter here.” Your pain is yours and it doesn’t end soon.
I held my hand on the left side of my head as I lay on the bed so it wouldn’t blow off. I did not scream or cry. I was quietly, intolerably miserable.
No pain pill helped. We started with oxycodone. It didn’t touch it. We tried ibuprofen. We tried acetaminophen. We tried every level of pain we could find. Nothing touched it. My only relief was when my ever thoughtful and kind husband, Scot, brought me all my meals, talked with me, even made me laugh through it all. I was attended by an angel.
In the pain, I had few coherent thoughts, but I thought of my grandmother who had an aneurism in her brain and died immediately at 57. I thought of my mother who had just given a talk at a school and came around the corner of the school, heading for the parking lot, and had to grab the brick corner of the school to stop from collapsing because her brain started to bleed. I knew both of these caused instant devastation, so since I was in this world where the agony just continued on and on, it might not be the same. But what could make a pain this intense and this focused on the left side of my head? What was going on with me?
I prayed. Of course, I prayed through this excruciating ordeal. My whole soul lifted to heaven in powerful, desperate prayer. I was calling on the One I always call on—my Father, my friend. “Dear Lord, Please relieve me from this agony. I cannot stand it anymore. I need this now, because I am not sure I can go on another hour or another day.” “Help, now.” “Help now.” I could have repeated this prayer a thousand times, but something in my spirit stopped me. If my pain continued, as I thought it would, I didn’t want to blame God for ignoring me. I didn’t want to murmur or whine that He is not there for me. When you need relief from the darkest trouble and you don’t get it immediately, it is so easy to think, God could have relieved me instantly and didn’t do it. Doesn’t He love me?”
I didn’t want to go there and so I changed my prayer, “Dear Lord, Strengthen me as I go through this crucible, this little Gethsemane. Help me endure with thy power and love. Make me brave. I want to make a commitment to thee right now in this excruciating hour and days of the worst physical pain I could imagine, that I will always stand by thee. I will not waver nor murmur. I will be Thy friend as Abraham is Thy friend, in every way I can understand to give myself to Thee. I will seek to leave my troubling and noisy Self behind to be Thy servant. This I pledge in the agony of my being.”
That prayer was a blessing on my head, as if hands were laid upon me. I knew the grenades were bursting in my head, but the Lord was in the fire with me. While the pain continued pounding on me for nine unbroken days, I felt a wholeness of light in me, even a sense of good will, which I knew was a gift from God. I also knew something more about me, because I did not murmur when the grenades burst upon my head. I can be strong.
On day seven, we went to the emergency room, to see if we could at least find pain relief. Leaning over in my wheelchair there, I could see the room was bursting with those who needed help. I hoped as I sat there that my head wouldn’t explode in front of them all over the emergency room in pieces that landed in their laps. It seemed possible. In that triage group, my turn was last—and I supposed they couldn’t see my head on fire. But two of our daughters arrived to say hello and their beautiful faces were a relief and a distraction when I could hardly bear the pain. Lord, thank Thee for my blessings.
Wheeled into a private room, the doctors gave me an IV for pain relief. I was so excited, but at the end, it hadn’t touched the pain. Three more levels of IV bags with the last one being morphine. The pain danced in its mastery over my head, still unrelenting. They had done a CT scan so I knew that in my head was neither a tumor nor a bleed. That was a relief to hear, but no one could stop the pain and they didn’t know why I had it.
Then my body did me a favor at the end of day nine. It broke out into the most awful shingles rash that flowed across my face and down to the left eye and had the possibility of long-term eye damage. Because I was vaccinated, perhaps no doctor saw, right away, that this pain in such a specific area could be shingles. But now, the doctors could use the correct pain pills.
Before long, I was on an entire regimen of pills that almost took a chart to distribute to me correctly. Let’s see four pills a day of the blue one, three times a day of the yellow one, every two hours for the steroid drop in my eye. Shingles is serious business with a rash like a Phantom of the Opera mask under your skin, and nerves that crawl with pain and create endless scabs. But it is knowable, and I can see there will be an end to this—my doctor says probably sometime in January. And at long last, I was able to leave that war zone with all the grenades whose name was called Agony. The One who had descended below all things had been with me as I descended below what I could handle.
Sweet revelation came during this experience. One very early morning, Scot woke up and the voice of the Spirit started speaking to his mind. He grabbed his phone as the revelation entered his mind so he would not miss the message. His question that he had been asking most intently as he watched me writhe and suffer had been this, “Why is Maurine called upon to suffer such pain?”
This is part of his answer: “This very difficult trial of Maurine’s right now is not sent by me, but I saw it coming and knew it would do my work.”
So much is there. God didn’t cause my trial. What a wonderful thing to hear! He didn’t cause my pain and distress. So many of us in the world are busy blaming God. He must be the most blamed Being in the universe for things He didn’t do. Think of the trials you face. The general corruption of the world’s institutions that are crumbling before us and causing us angst. The family member who resents you and breaks your heart. The assaults, the worry, the wound you carry that is layers deep. Humanity did these things to itself. It is humanity who makes us miserable—proud, deceitful, arrogant people who hurt us and dash our dreams, who wreak war and havoc, who kill children and blow up buildings. God doesn’t do this. It is so unfair to blame the Loving Shepherd for the Adversary’s work. Or the work that we do to ourselves.
As for our bodies that come, as we age, to tremble with sickness, this was built into our system. Our healthy, young bodies can get sick randomly as well. He doesn’t do that to us either. They are the processes of the body and the environment at work. It is not in the Lord’s nature to think of ways to hurt us.
Note, this personal revelation, meant for me, said in the voice of the Spirit, to my husband, “I saw it coming and knew it would do my work.” The question is what work? This is what the Spirit told us, “She has to really know Me and that in the midst of pain all is well. In the midst of deep trials that affect even the most personal parts of her body, she can trust Me. She has to know that when she is in the deepest pain, I am there for her and I have descended below that. She has to absolutely know in every fiber of her being, in this sphere, that I am good to My word in every particular. In the depths of pain there is knowledge that can be found in no other way.”
I got the sense from my discussion with Scot about all this that the Lord is preparing His leaders, His warriors, His commanders, His generals in diverse and powerful ways to be able to lead and guide and help His people through this time so that He may have a people prepared and worthy to greet Him when He comes again. I have come to know that there is nothing to be afraid of. He said to His disciples on that last night when He was with them, fear not, I have overcome the world. They are all there in heaven with Him now, save John, and they all learned this lesson.
All things have their purpose. Nothing is lost. Nothing is wasted. These things sunk deep into my soul.
This was a cherished revelation to me, but I can see, of course, that it applies to us all in so many ways. I look around and see mighty trials among the people I love most, and now with expanded eyes, I can see something more than suffering. The Lord really is preparing His leaders, His warriors, His commanders, His generals who can be mighty for Him to help a people be prepared for His coming. But it must entail some trial that is so intense that all false things are shorn away and we see clearly that we still stand by Him. Trials may look different. Certainly, all will not be physical, but in the moments when we are at the limits of our endurance with whatever wound we carry, and we cannot find Him, we can still arise and say, I choose God. I love Him. I’ve felt Him in my past.
I don’t choose my pain, my disappointment, my grief over Him. I choose to trust Him and I choose Him now. Where else could I possibly turn?
I love the lyrics to Rob Gardner’s song, that is laced with scripture from Isaiah, called “My Kindness Shall Not Depart from Thee”
For a little while
Have I forsaken thee;
But with great mercies will I gather thee
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee
For a moment
But with everlasting kindness will I gather thee
And with mercy will I take thee ‘neath my wings
For the mountains shall depart
And the hills shall be removed
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea
But know, my child
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
Though thine afflictions seem
At times too great to bear
I know thine every thought and every care
And though the very jaws
Of hell gape after thee I am with thee
And with everlasting mercy will I succor thee
And with healing will I take thee ‘neath my wings
Though the mountains shall depart
And the hills shall be removed
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea
Know, my child
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
How do you feel that kindness that never departs so you can stand by Him in all things?
Our dearest friends Ron and Bonnie McMillan have been through the olive press in the last 21 months. He was climbing at a mountain near us and slipped and fell 150 feet head over heels down the mountain. He suffered a significant brain bleed which left him in a coma for four months and when he finally awoke, most of the neural pathways had been severed by the fall and he had to start over, learning to walk, learning to swallow and talk, learning every basic human movement. We cheered when he could roll over. Yet through this time, coming into his bedroom where the McMillans are both such devoted servants has been like entering a temple. Ron’s eyes have a light and tranquility about them.
I had to ask, “Ron, how do you stay so full of peace in your condition? Don’t you ever get angry because of the tedium, your shattered dreams, the endless haul this has all represented?” He answered very simply, “Every day I choose.” I knew what he meant. In no matter what hardship or loss or pain, life handed him, I choose His faith in Christ.”
After my nine excruciating days in the land of agony, I understood this better. I could feel called upon to tell the Lord that I would always serve Him and love Him and trust Him, and as He stood with me in the fire, and the crashing grenades, I still felt a powerful peace.
In that hour, while the grenades flew and landed on my head, I redefined myself. I gave myself to trust. I gave myself again to God.