I have heard women and men who have gone through crazy amounts of pain, loss, and suffering say, “I wouldn’t trade what I have gone through for the world.” These words have come out of the mouth of Bethany Hamilton, a woman whose arm was bitten off by a shark while she was surfing. These words have been repeated by a woman by the name of Abby who died of terminal cancer this past year. These words have been spoken by Nick Vujicic, a man who has no limbs. I have envied these people because, honestly, I hate that I had to go through my dad having cancer twice. I hate that I’ve seen a lot of my friends go through pain. I hate that I had to spend the summer before my junior year in highschool unable to walk, in pain, and totally dependent on my family due to a flesh eating bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis. If someone said that I could go through life and not experience any of that hardship I would have said “Ok!” in a heartbeat… until today.
The sermon at church was about the Holy Spirit. My pastor, whose name is Kevin, asked if anyone in the room had ever felt the presence of God. My mind went back to the darkest night of my life, the day I told God, “I’m done. I refuse to believe in you anymore. I don’t believe in you anymore.”
I was lying on a bed in a military hospital in the city of Jayapura on the island of Papua, Indonesia. It was the last few weeks of school and I was spending it in a hospital. I was there because a few days before I had gone up to a waterfall with my friends. Though we enjoyed trekking to waterfalls, I had never been to that specific waterfall. I was so excited to at last be going to “God’s Awesome Falls.” That is the name one of my friends gave it because of its beauty. On the way up my friend, Kelsey, and I slipped quite a few times on the slippery rocks in the riverbed we were walking up. Later my brother said that he heard when I fell one time and that it sounded painful. When he told me that I couldn’t remember it. I had blocked it from my memory. Now I remember. I remember falling on a specific rock and taking a while to get back up because it was a hard fall and it hurt worse than the other falls. I looked down and it looked like I had gotten just another scrape. One of my friends asked me if I was ok and I told them that I was. It wasn’t even bleeding that much. That was Saturday.
I slept great that night. The next day I went to church and I was perfectly fine. Then about noon as I was washing dishes at home I took a step and almost fell. That one step hurt so badly. I walked back over to the sink to keep washing dishes and it began hurting to just stand there. After I finished I went to my room and laid on my bed in pain. My brother was in his room. My little sister was playing in another room on the other side of the house. I thought the pain was all in my head. It didn’t make sense. I had done nothing.
The phone rang. It kept ringing and no one was picking it up. I walked slowly to the phone crying because of the pain. It was my parents asking us what we wanted to eat at a restaurant. I yelled over the phone and cried. I was in pain and I couldn’t think of food. I didn’t care where they were eating. I was in pain and my parents were gone and my siblings at home didn’t know I was hurting. I felt bad when I hung up the phone. I went back to my room and tried to sleep. I cried and cried. I felt so alone. I was in so much pain. I had never felt pain like this, but when I was lying down I didn’t hurt as bad.
That whole afternoon I spent in my room. My parents were busy because they were setting up for the 8th Grade Banquet. They stopped by once to see what was wrong, but other than what I told them there were no signs that I was sick. I didn’t look sick. We didn’t even think that the small scratch on my leg would be causing me to be nauseous. Nothing made sense. I had gotten malaria before, but why would my leg hurt too? I don’t remember what time it was when they got back from the banquet. It felt as though it was late at night.
During the time that they were gone I had crawled multiple times to the bathroom to go to the restroom and to throw-up. Every time I sat up I needed to throw-up. Once my parents got back I told them that it had gotten worse. They debated over whether they should call the doctor that night or go to the clinic in the morning. Since I was doing fine laying down and there were no signs that this was any more serious than malaria, we opted for going to the clinic in the morning.
That night I slept little. I threw up over myself and on the floor in the middle of the night. My mom got mad at me and I told her that I couldn’t walk. So she got a bucket for me to throw up in. I think that was the moment when my mom realized I really was sick, but I still thought that it was all in my head. Sophomore year had been a hard year for me. The previous year I had spent in the United States of America and I was having a hard time adjusting back into our small school and community. Every morning it was a fight to wake up. I didn’t want to go to school, but I did because I had to. I thought I was making up this whole scenario just so I didn’t have to go to school on Monday.
Monday morning my mom came in and asked me when I wanted to go to the clinic or if I even wanted to go that day or wait until later. We decided that I should go that day and if I really was fine I would just go to my afternoon classes. I don’t remember what time we went to the clinic, but I remember my mom had to help me out of our recliner and I had to lean on her as we walked out the door to the car. Stepping outside I felt like I was going to faint. I started getting hot and felt nauseous. When we got to the clinic I was feeling a little better. The missionary doctor asked me what was wrong. I told her about the pain in my leg, how I could barely walk, and how I felt nauseous every time I sat up. We showed her the scratch on my leg, but we weren’t sure if that was connected. It was. She looked at my leg and told me that I probably had compartment syndrome. My first thought was, “What is that and will I feel better tomorrow?”
She immediately got on the phone and started talking to different doctors in the area. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. A nurse came in and helped me onto a bed. They told me they were needing to put an IV into me immediately because I had not been drinking enough water.
I had never had an IV put into me in my life. I had never hurt myself very badly. I had never broken a limb and now I was having to go to a hospital for an illness I knew nothing about. I was terrified. I was anxious. As I lay on the bed waiting to get the IV put into me I heard the doctor say the word “emergency evacuation.” That was when I realized that I was not going to be better tomorrow. I realized that my sickness was something serious. Very serious. More fear set in. I asked my mom for her phone and texted my friend Katie to pray for me. My friend came and held my hand as they put in the IV. It took a few tries and it was incredibly painful. I cried. Little did I know that I would be dealing with worse pain than the sting of an IV being pushed into my wrist. My friend Katie prayed over me. I was so thankful to have a friend there to hold my hand. I was so afraid. I needed some sort of comfort.
A while later my dad pulled up to the clinic with our car. He had packed clothes for me, pillows, and blankets. We knew that there was a possibility that I would have to spend the night at the hospital. We did not know that one night in the hospital would turn into a week and a half there. They laid me in the car with the IV and we drove two hours to a military hospital. I was in an excruciating amount of pain that whole ride. My dad drove as smoothly as he could, but by the end I just wanted him to drive fast so that it all could be over. I was crying and screaming out in pain during the whole drive. There was nothing my parents could do to relieve the pain.
I felt a little better once we got to the hospital. They put me in a wheelchair and rolled me into a room where nurses, with great difficulty, lifted me onto a stretcher. They took my clothes off and put a hospital gown on me and rolled me to a waiting room right outside where I would have my first surgery. I was shaking because of fear. I knew that they were going to put me completely under and I didn’t want the doctor to do something bad to me. I had huge trust issues, not only with men, but also with God.
It felt like hours that we were waiting for the doctor, but it probably was only one hour. The doctor was in surgery at that moment, so we had to wait for him to finish. He walked out of the room one time and he was covered in blood. More fear crept into my heart. At one moment the heart monitor went off and I really thought that I had died. I asked my parents if I had died and they chuckled and told me that the power had gone off. I was hoping that the power wouldn’t go off while I was in surgery.
The whole time we were waiting I thought that my parents would be able to be in the Emergency Room with me as I had my surgery. When I found out that I would be alone more fear crept in. I started praying to God, asking him to just give me peace. I prayed for peace over and over and over again because while waiting all I felt was fear and anxiety. I didn’t want to be awake during the surgery. I needed peace so that I could sleep and not worry and not think during my surgery. I didn’t want to feel the surgeon digging away at my leg.
I was shaking when I was reeled into the Emergency Room. I was all alone. I remember music playing in the room. I remember the anesthesiologist holding my hand and asking if I was afraid. I remember nodding my head “yes.” I was terrified. Everything was white. The anesthesiologist looked into my eyes and told me that I didn’t have to be afraid. His eyes were so kind. I could trust him. I could trust God. I could rest. I remember asking if there was any Christian music that they could play. They told me no. I remember nothing after that.
I woke up a while later in a green hospital room with bandages on my leg. I don’t know how long I was out. Apparently I said some funny things while coming out of the anesthesia, but I remember nothing. The next few weeks… or month… doctors and nurses and friends would ask me on a scale of 1 to 10 what my pain was. Thinking back I should have said 10 every time they asked because that was how much pain I was in. I was in pain all the time. Yes, I took pain medication and maybe that helped. I don’t know. All I know was that I was hurting really bad all the time. Sometimes I could tell that I was in more pain than usual. That was normally when the pain medication had finished working and I was waiting to get more pumped into my body. My friends and family told me later that I looked like a druggy. I didn’t feel alive. I didn’t know why I was alive. I didn’t want to be alive if all I was going to do was lie in an ugly hospital room in pain.
I wish that I had more joy while I was going through this “trial.” To be honest, I was so angry at God. I was angry at the people who tried to encourage me with Scripture and kind words. Looking back I am overwhelmed by the kindness and love of my community, but at the time I just wanted someone to cry with me. I wanted to yell. I wanted to tell people how I really felt. When my friends came in to visit me I would either act like I was asleep to avoid having to talk to someone and making small talk; avoiding the fact that I was in so much pain; or I would act like I was really doing just fine and that I was just trusting in God; masking the fact that I hated God and was done with Him and His so called love for me. That was what led to the night I can never forget. The night where I was finally honest with God.
I spent a little over a week in the hospital. Nighttime became the hardest times during my stay in the hospital. That was when I felt most alone. My mom would normally spend nights with me because I could not stand my dad’s snoring. She got some sleep. I got very little. I tended to sleep during the day to try to avoid visitors who wanted to encourage me. Also every time I closed my eyes at night I would have nightmares and I tended to move in my sleep which caused a lot of pain. These factors led to my spending most nights in and out of consciousness and in great pain. I cried a lot.
I was finally done with it all. Earlier in the week or maybe earlier that night I had asked God to kill me. I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I knew that if I did survive that I would eventually heal, but how long would that take? Was it really worth it to go through so much pain? I wasn’t ready to face all the questions from others about my “suffering.” I was so angry at God. Could He really use my pain? I couldn’t fight anymore. God decided not to let me die even though he could have, easily. I was angry at God for that. I broke. Why couldn’t He just let me die? Why did He hate me so much that He would make me have to actually walk through pain? I didn’t say the words out loud, but I definitely told God in my heart and my mind that I was done with Him and that I didn’t believe in Him anymore. It wasn’t a deathbed prayer asking God to save me from my pain and then I would believe in Him. No, I was done with believing in a God who would let me suffer. I wanted Him to let me die. I remember feeling the darkness. I remember the pain.
Immediately after I said those words in my heart, because I wouldn’t dare speak them out loud and let people hear me, I began to cry. My heart broke. I knew exactly what I had said. I knew what those words meant. If God was not real, my life had absolutely no purpose. I had asked Him to kill me earlier because the pain was too much, but He didn’t. I was mad at him. I did not want to face the pain I was already facing and that lay ahead. Many more surgeries lay ahead and many more sleepless nights. God didn’t kill me when I asked him to. I am thankful for that, but when I spoke those words I realized that it would be better for me to die than for God not to exist. No matter how badly I wanted the pain to go away, I wanted God to be real. No, I needed God to be real. If I were to possibly live on through the pain I was going through I needed God desperately.
It’s ironic that I told God that I didn’t believe in Him because in saying to Him that I didn’t believe in Him I was enforcing the fact that He was real. My days in the hospital are blurred together so I can’t remember if it was that same night or a later night that God again showed to me that He was real. I might have gone through a day “without” God, trying to live like He was not real. It didn’t work though, because I needed Him every second of every day because the pain was so excruciating. There was another night though when I was in the dark again feeling empty and lonely. It was after I had told God that I was done with him. I couldn’t sleep and had woken up from a nightmare. I was scared to go back to sleep and face the nightmares again. So I lay on my back unable to move. If I moved, my leg would hurt even worse than it already was hurting. I started crying because I knew the night would be long and I would have to face it alone with my thoughts and with my pain. So I did what anyone who doesn’t believe in God anymore would do, I began talking to God.
I asked God to send rain. At home I loved falling asleep to the sound of rain. Most Missionary Kids (MKs) do. I missed playing in the rain and touching the rain. I missed the smell. I knew I couldn’t go outside and play in the rain, but I knew I could hear it on the roof and see it through the window. That was enough for me. That was my request.
You might be thinking right now why I didn’t ask God to take away the pain. I asked God that a lot. I don’t know why He didn’t. I can’t tell you why He let my suffer so. There was a point when I stopped asking Him because I knew He wasn’t going to take away the pain. What I do know is that immediately after I asked God to let it rain, so that I could at least hear the rain and see it, it began to pour.
Skeptics out there might say “That was just coincidence.” I’ll let you say that if you desire, but I believe that it was God answering my prayer. I can’t explain it, but I knew without a doubt that God was real. I had always known. Praying to Him was proof that I had always known He was real and believed Him. What was so special about Him bringing the rain was that I not only believed that He was real, but I became overwhelmed with the knowledge in my heart along with my mind that God really did love me. Somehow I was able to feel God’s love and experience it for myself. I didn’t feel alone in that hospital room anymore. God was there with me. He knew my pain and He cared.
When a person goes through suffering, at least when I went through suffering, I thought God was punishing me. I am so very sinful and am very aware of my sin. In all honesty I deserve any punishment from God. I have lied, I have had a jealous heart, I have ruined friendships, I have hurt my family, and I have denied God! How could God love me? But why would God answer such a small and silly prayer if He didn’t love me? I’m not saying that from that moment onward I have never doubted the love of God and have never sinned. I doubt God’s love for me all the time. I have to, in the words of John Piper, “preach truth to my soul” constantly. What did happen was that God’s love for me and God’s presence became more real in my life than it had ever been before.
I spent a long time PRAISING GOD as I watched and listened to the rain fall outside my window. Another thing happened as the rain fell that night. Something that I will never forget. I gave God my whole life. When I was 6, I think, I sat on my mom’s bed and asked Jesus into my heart. The only reason I remember that is because I have been reminded of it through my parents and my siblings. When I was a bitter 12 year old at a conference called Planet Wisdom with my MK friends I again renewed my commitment to Jesus. I was done being bitter. At 15 or 16 in that green hospital room watching the rain fall down and experiencing excruciating amounts of pain in my leg I told God that I was sorry for denying Him. I told him I was sorry for being angry and for not believing in Him because I couldn’t see His goodness and His love. God showed up. He showed me the part of his character that I desperately needed to see because I could not believe in a God who was not loving. GOD IS LOVE. I understand that a little better now.
When I was 6 and when I was 12 I didn’t understand fully what it meant to “take up my cross and follow Jesus.” I still don’t know fully what that means. But when I was a 15 or 16 year old telling God that I would follow Him even through the pain I was going through I knew a little better because I was experiencing the pain of following Jesus. We don’t like to tell people that following Jesus is going to be hard. We like talking about God’s love and His goodness and His grace. We’ll talk about the cross, and we’ll talk about the forgiveness we have. It’s not fun telling people that following Jesus will be hard and that we will still face hardships when we follow Him. No one likes being uncomfortable. No one likes pain, but there will be pain involved in following Jesus. I knew that full well when I fully gave up my life and my situation to Jesus that night. I knew He wasn’t going to take away the pain in my leg, but what I did know was that He was good and that He had a plan for my life and that He loved me and that He was willing to walk through the pain with me. That was enough for me to give Him all of me.
So when my pastor told us today that we need “One second in the presence of God and (we) will be convinced,” I understood because I had that one second. Why I can say without a doubt that God is real and I believe in Him is because I went through a time, no matter how short, in my life where I refused to believe in Him. Life without God is Hell. Hell is where God is not. It is the absence of God. I might have only spent a few hours or a day “without God,” (I honestly can’t remember how long it was) but I knew that I could not live like that. So I can declare with Bethany Hamilton, Nick Vujicic, and Abby that I would not trade my doubts, the darkest nights of my life, the excruciating pain, the anger, the loneliness, and the sorrow for anything in the world because I have become convinced that God is real and He loves even me.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)