When my sister and I were growing up, we loved to quote this poster that showed a soccer player lying injured on a field with his hand on his head as if he had gotten a concussion. His thoughts read “No Pain, No Gain. No Gain, No Goals. No Goals, No Scouts. No Scouts, No College. No College, No Cheerleaders. No Cheerleaders??? Get Up, Man. Get Up.” We loved this quote 1.) because it is hilarious; 2.) I was a cheerleader; and 3.) well…it is actually kind of Biblical, although we didn’t realize it at the time. Now I know that you are thinking that A.) There are no cheerleaders in the Bible (However, they do relate to my story) and B.) that if there are then The Message version of the Bible has really taken way too many liberties with it translations. No, don’t worry, it is not The Message, but instead here is what the ESV Bible translation James 1:2-4 actually says in regards to this- “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.” So, basically no pain (trials) there is no gain (steadfastness).
As a gymnast for fourteen years, it was natural for me to transition to cheerleading and eventually my love and talent for flipping and flying would pay off not only by earning college scholarships, but by also being blessed to win three Division 1 Collegiate Cheerleading Championships as a coed cheerleader at Morehead State University. It was there, over ten years ago, that the University trainers discovered an irregular hitch in my scapula (shoulder blade) and weakness in the serratus muscles after I complained of pain. That pain continued to be a present nuisance until almost three years ago when while picking up my toddler, my scapula winged dramatically and I was left screaming in pain.
In the year prior to this, our Adult Sunday School Teacher had showed us a video of “God” trying to chisel someone’s life to make them into exactly who He wanted them to be. Each time “God” began to chisel, the person would stop Him and say things like “No don’t take away that part of me, or I don’t want to change that” and “God” would remind them that they had asked for Him to shape their life. The video to be honest was very cheesy, but I got the message and I prayed that God would indeed make me into what He wanted me to be, chiseling off the rough spots and polishing me so that I could serve Him wholeheartedly. Be careful when you pray something like that…because God will answer and the process may be difficult.
Since the day that my scapula winged and left me screaming in pain, I have been left in severe chronic pain–the kind of pain that screams at your brain and tears at your soul. I was miserable and there was no hiding it. My perfectionistic, neurotically clean life had just become very messy and I did not like it one bit. As if life is one large Etch-A-Sketch, I had drawn me just as I wanted myself to be–a picture of the kind of woman that we all love to hate. I kept a neurotically spotless clean house, I baked bread everyday, I kept my children in order, lost all my pregnancy weight–even after my fourth child, and volunteered in a variety of ministries. “No Pain, No Gain”. God had flipped the big Etch-A-Sketch of life and was making me into who He wanted me to be and it was a painful process.
After several visits with the foremost specialists in the state of Missouri, I was referred to a doctor who was supposed to be my last hope as I desperately longed for a solution to my diagnosis. I had been diagnosed as having a decreased nerve signal to both the rhomboid and serratus muscles on the left side of my back which caused weakness and the inability to hold my shoulder properly in place. This left me with a severe shoulder droop and scapular winging and as a result the surrounding shoulder muscles were in a constant state of spasm as they strained to hold the structure in place. I had spasms in the form of trigger points (aka knots) all throughout my neck, back, and scapular region. Initially what started as five trigger points became, at last count by my massage therapist, was over twenty. The Doctor, an orthopedic shoulder specialist, considered my case, examined me, and gave me the bad news that I had been told time and time again. “There is nothing that can be done yet. You will have severe, chronic pain for the rest of your life with continued deterioration.” I left her office and ran to the bathroom where I broke down sobbing and continued to sob the entire three hour ride home. “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” I wanted to kick the apostle, James, in the face for writing that…but I didn’t. Instead I started asking everyone I knew to pray that I would have joy.
“No Pain, No Gain.” Slowly I began to see the joy in what God had been doing throughout these difficult circumstances. He had shaken the Etch-A-Sketch of who I thought I was and I was being sifted and redrawn into who He wanted me to be. His joy became my joy. That joy developed into steadfastness as I daily make the commitment to see how God can use my gifts and abilities for His glory. I am saying yes to God and joyfully watching as He creates beautiful pictures all around me. I want to be perfect and complete in Him and “let steadfastness have its full effect”. Nothing about life before this happened is the same, but there is beauty in having a house not quite in order if it means that I can spend more time loving and snuggling with my children. Pain prevents me from flipping, running, and weekday workouts, but gaining the weight of a full pregnancy without the baby in a year’s time has made me more relatable to other moms and women as I struggle with the ups and downs of losing weight. My “I can do everything without help” way of thinking has been altered as I have had to rely on others for help with so many things. Gradually having to let go of various ministries as I struggle with pain has blessed me with not only more family time, but also I can now focus all my energy into one ministry instead of only pieces of me into multiple ministries. One of the biggest blessings has been that instead of being a “Martha”-like (Luke 10:38-42) personality, I can now be a “Mary” and just sit at the feet of the Lord and listen to His teaching. He has been teaching me so many things from each of the people who have touched my life by loving and encouraging me and doing the things that I now find so difficult such as making meals for me, driving me or my children somewhere, cleaning my house, gardening, providing for me, watching my children, shopping, and just helping in every way possible. Their faithfulness to serve has been a blessing and a true lesson in steadfast love. I am still most definitely, a work in progress, but I can so very clearly see that my pain is well worth the gain and I can have tremendous joy in that.
A childhood Sunday School teacher told us that happiness depends on “happenings” or circumstances in our life, but that joy is something that only comes from the Lord. Joy from the Lord can be found in all circumstances if we can see the beauty that He makes from the ashes of sin, death, and pain. We all face pain of some sort–pain from loss, abuse, disappointment, heartbreak, abandonment, etc., but it is when we seek joy in the Lord that we can see His plan and protection for our life.
So often when hardships and difficulties compound, we see only the bad and mourn our misfortunes. The Biblical character Job is the perfect comparison for that. Satan was allowed to test Job and do what Satan does best which is lie, steal, kill, and destroy. He took Job’s children, his property, his livestock, and his health, yet in all these trials Job remained steadfast and “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:22. We tend to remember Job only for the trials that afflicted him, yet forget about the joy. “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.” James1:2-4 The joy is that through all Job’s trials, he trusted the Lord, remained steadfast and in the end God richly blessed and restored him, sifting him and making him steadfast and complete. Job 42:10–“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job…And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Also, Job 42:12 states “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…” No Pain, No Gain.–Job’s pain became his gain.
It is so difficult for me to write anything about the loss of my cousin Ryan, whom I adored and I am hesitant to write even this. The pain I feel is a raw stabbing pain that rips at my heart and leaves me asking, why him? Why my dear, sweet Ryan? There is so much evil in this world and it robbed us of this, kind, big-hearted hero who gave his life to protect ours. How can we “count it all joy”–it seems unimaginable to have joy in this horror of heartbreak. Yet, I have seen rays of joy and hope even in these darkest circumstances. There is joy and hope knowing that Ryan loved the Lord and is in heaven where those of us who give our hearts to Christ can see him again, embrace him, and tell him how much we love him. Amidst loving memories and many tears, there was the greatest joy to hear his mother say that she would be in heaven too one day. Oh, how my heart rejoiced to hear such sweet and cherished words! There is joy in knowing that if Ryan sacrificed all to save each one of us, how much more willing would he have sacrificed his life so that one day his whole family would know the Lord as he did, would be drawn to Christ’s spear pierced side, and would meet Ryan at Heaven’s doors. I steadfastly cling to the knowledge that Ryan’s death will bring forth life as all those he loves become perfect and complete in Christ alone.
This I cling to:“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 My hope, my joy, is only in the Lord and I am so far from being perfect and complete, but now I see the wonders of being able to steadfastly cling to the nail scarred hands of Christ.