Years ago, when my girls were around the ages of five and eight, I had a myelogram to determine the cause of ongoing back pain. After the procedure, I developed a spinal fluid leak that caused a spinal headache, which is a debilitating headache that worsens when sitting or standing and improves when lying down. After being upright for just a little while, I would have to lie down again because the pain was so severe. It felt like my head was literally going to explode. Hands down it was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life.
After spending a couple of weeks flat on my back, it was recommended that I have a blood patch in an attempt to block the leak; but the procedure seemed to create even more of an opening, and I wound up worse than before.
I remember lying flat on the couch on Christmas morning as the girls opened their presents, bringing them over to me one at a time for me to see what Santa had brought. Then their grandparents took them to eat Christmas brunch and visit with extended family while Neil stayed with me, watching one Christmas movie after another as we lay in the bed. (And that was quite a sacrifice because several of them were on the Lifetime channel!)
Months went by, and I was able to be up for one and then two and then three hours at a time before having to lie down again. But I had to plan my activity strategically and be prepared to lie down again when the debilitating pain returned, which caused a great deal of anxiety. I didn’t know if I would ever recover and be “normal” again. Not being able to care for my family and seeing the toll it was taking on Neil was as bad as the physical pain itself.
During this time, I struggled to hope. I memorized and meditated on Romans 12:12 continuously: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Though I was managing the last two as best I could, I simply could not be joyful in hope. Hope seemed like empty, wishful thinking to me.
Hope seemed like empty, wishful thinking to me.
One day Neil came home with a gift—an angel holding a banner that says “Hope.” He knew I was struggling and thought that this visual reminder might help me to set my mind on hope and, in time, allow it to take hold of my heart as well. I remember staring at that angel each day, asking God to give me hope while feeling mostly anxiety, fear, and deep sadness.
Six months later I was still struggling physically and emotionally, but we made plans to go out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I rested all day so that I might be able to be upright for several hours. We chose a new restaurant and arranged for a babysitter for the girls. It felt so good to be out doing something so “normal”—something I realized I had taken for granted, like so many other things. It was a very nice evening—until about halfway through the meal. The familiar tightness and throbbing pain began in my lower neck and slowly made its way up the back of my head, increasing in intensity as it progressed. Tears began to stream down my face as I told Neil another headache had begun and we would have to leave. He knew my greatest fear was that I would never get better, but he didn’t know that the underlying fear was that the strain of it all eventually would tear us apart. So I was overcome when he looked me in the eyes and said, “If you never get better, I will always be here. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.”
Although the pain continued to increase that evening, I sensed that something significant was happening within me. You see, from that moment on, I knew that whatever happened, we would face it together. I was loved, and I wasn’t alone. Though I had known this before, I needed the reassurance. Neil’s declaration of love and faithfulness assuaged my fear and gave me hope.
In the coming weeks, I began to realize that Neil’s words were much more than a personal declaration. They also were God's loving message to me, communicated through Neil: “I love you, and I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” God used someone with skin on to communicate a message I desperately needed to hear. Now when I starred at the angel with the banner of hope, I realized that hope is not tied to external circumstances but to internal assurances. Hope flows from knowing that whatever might happen, we are loved and never alone. The greatest hope of all is found in God’s faithful love and presence.
I realized that hope is not tied to external circumstances but to internal assurances. Hope flows from knowing that whatever might happen, we are loved and never alone.
As that hope began to take hold of me, my physical healing slowly accelerated. Within two months—praise God—I was pain free.
Of course, physical healing is not a guaranteed outcome of hope or faith. And every relationship does not survive difficult circumstances. Those are not the points I am making. What I want to remind us of, to reassure us of, is that regardless of our circumstances—when the suffering continues, the relationship ends, the outcome looks bleak—our loving, faithful God promises to walk through it with us. We are never alone, and we are always loved—even when we despair and lose all hope. God comes to be with us in our pain and, in time, to restore our hope. And God often sends messengers with skin on to help us know and remember God's faithful love for us. In fact, that is why God came to earth as Emmanuel, which means “God with us”—so that we might know God understands our plight, loves us completely, and enters into our suffering with us. God not only enters our suffering but also redeems it.
I believe this is something we all need to be reassured of this Christmas in particular. Whatever 2020 has brought for you and yours, whatever you have suffered, whatever pain you are now carrying, whatever hopes have been crushed or lost—remember this: you are dearly loved, and you are never alone. Emmanuel knows your circumstances and promises to be with you through them. God can even redeem your suffering. Hold onto that hope. I pray it will take hold of you and bring whatever healing you need this season. May you recognize God’s loving and faithful presence, and may it fill you with the gift of hope!
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23 NIV)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12 NIV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV)
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.