Praying Past the Pain
Faith helped her recover from a debilitating injury in time to dance at her daughter's wedding.
Praying Past the Pain
She relied on faith to recover from a debilitating injury in time to dance at her daughter's wedding.
"You’re making good progress,” my physical therapist said.
I frowned and shot her a look. This didn’t feel like progress, plodding along on a treadmill. Before the accident I could knock out four miles of walking no problem. Power walking, mind you. Even my daughter, Kelli, 25, had to work to keep pace with me out on the road. And then came the accident.
You think your body is so strong, almost invulnerable, especially when you work at it the way I did, then you find out that flesh and bone is no match for metal and mass and momentum.
The car only clipped me on my morning walk that winter day 18 months earlier, and at first not even the doctors realized how seriously I was injured. I was sent home from the emergency room with a prescription for pain meds and rest. I figured I’d be back to my routine in no time.
Not quite. Soon it became painfully clear that rest alone wasn’t going to do the trick. I didn’t get better—I got worse. I became virtually crippled. And now, in August I was past my third round of spinal surgery to implant steel rods and remove three ruptured discs.
At least the pain—a debilitating, stinging, throbbing agony I could find relief from only by lying flat on the floor— had finally eased.
“Allison,” my physical therapist said, “you need a goal.”
“I have a goal. It’s to get better,” I complained, trudging away.
“No. More specific. Let’s think.”
More than most people, I should have understood that healing doesn’t happen overnight. I was a Christian mental-health counselor. How many times had I urged my own clients to be patient, to trust God and to give it time? But hadn’t I suffered enough already?
At work I had to lie on the floor while I talked to patients about their healing. It was embarrassing. Wasn’t it time for me to be healed?
“Think, Allison. What do you want to be able to do more than anything else?”
My pace on the treadmill slowed just a bit. Kelli was getting married to her college sweetheart, Michael, in December. There were so many once-in-a-lifetime details to attend to—the caterer, the music, the flowers, the table decorations. Moments I’d always dreamed of sharing with Kelli.
The day we looked for dresses, my mother drove me to the bridal shop, where we met Kelli. She’d come from Pensacola, where she was living. I leaned against a wall in the far corner of the store, grimacing, trying to get comfortable, while Kelli modeled the beautiful gowns.
I wanted to caress the fabric, fluff out the trains, zip Kelli up. It was supposed to be my job, my special time with my daughter, but my mother had to step in. I just wasn’t physically able to do it. The pain held me back.
We looked at many dresses that day. When Kelli knew she’d found the perfect one she turned to me and asked, “What do you think, Mom? Do you love it?”
I did. And more than anything in the world I loved the strong, beautiful young woman who wore it.
I stopped the treadmill and turned to my therapist. “I want to be there for Kelli. I want to dance at her wedding. That’s my goal.”
“That’s it, then. Fix that image in your mind: you dancing at your daughter’s wedding.”
That night I told my husband, Steve, about my goal.
“That’s great,” he said, “as long as I get the first dance.” Then he hugged me ever so gently.
Yet at my next PT session I found my confidence faltering. The people around me seemed so far ahead— skipping rope, lifting weights, jumping. There I was, back on the treadmill. It seemed like a metaphor for standing still.
As I walked I thought back to a day just before my last surgery. Kelli came to the house to pick out music for the wedding and reception. She sat at the dining room table with the computer, while I lay on the floor beside her.
“What do you think of this one?” she asked, clicking on a Motown number. Strains of “Ain’t no mountain high enough…” filled the room.
Images of Kelli standing on Steve’s feet in this very room learning to dance drifted up through my memory, of Steve and me slow dancing together, Kelli squeezing between us. Music and dancing, moving to the beat, always a part of our lives. Now here I was practically immobile.
I thought about the wedding, everyone taking to the dance floor while Steve and I watched from an empty table. “Mom,” Kelli said, “are you listening?”
“Sure,” I said, halfheartedly. “That sounds great.”
Kelli gave me a look, then lay down beside me, our arms touching. I could feel the warmth of her body, the electric energy of youth pulsing through her. “Remember when I was four and I cracked my head riding my tricycle, what you said to me in the emergency room?” she asked.
I smiled and nodded at the memory, a running joke between us: Wow, you really did this up right. Kelli had said those same words to me after my accident, then kissed me on the forehead and held my hand while I waited to go home from the ER. Back then I believed her.
“You’re going to get better,” Kelli said now. “Trust God, Mom, that’s what you always told me. When we doubt ourselves we’re really just doubting God.”
Striding on the treadmill I had to smile. Steve and I had raised a pretty smart kid. And she was right. Time and again as a counselor I’d encouraged people to trust God first. That’s where all healing began. God wanted us well, not sick.
I closed my eyes and blocked out all the activity around me. I imagined myself on the dance floor at Kelli’s wedding reception. I imagined God holding me up, giving me strength. Imagined being able to do anything as long as I put my trust in God.
Step by patient step I grew stronger, more trusting, more confident. One Sunday in November, at church, I stood up in the pew. I lifted my arms in praise. Lifted them higher than I had lifted them in almost two years, as if trying to touch the hands of the One who’d upheld me throughout this whole ordeal.
Steve looked at me in wonder. I felt no pain. None.
Still, I was a long way from kicking up my heels. I still couldn’t stand on my own for very long. I didn’t know how I was going to dance. Only that God would be there when it was time.
The big day in December finally arrived. Three minutes before Kelli’s processional I slipped on heels (low ones!) for the first time since the accident. Steve and I escorted her down the aisle, my feet floating on air—or so it seemed. Kelli was all that mattered. And she was radiant.
At the reception I watched as Michael led Kelli onto the dance floor, their bodies moving effortlessly, joining as one. It took everything I had not to burst into tears. A wave of gratitude swept over me. Thank you, Lord, I whispered. Thank you for this beautiful, perfect moment.
Then the music shifted, the beat pulsating through the hotel ballroom. Couples streamed onto the dance floor. Steve took my hand and helped me to my feet.
I laid my head on his shoulder. He held me close, tenderly, and slowly we moved, maybe not to the DJ’s beat but certainly to a rhythm, one we both knew so well, the beating of our hearts.
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