(By Melissa Helser)
It was March 2012, I was in the thick of recovering from a very intense foot surgery. My toes, misshaped by a disease I have, had been curled to the point of impossibility. Impossible to wear shoes. Impossible to run and play with my kids. Impossible to get through the day without extreme pain. The impossibility of it all led me to surgery. That opened a door to some of the hardest three months of my life. I have had seasons of hardship having a chronic disease from the age of 17, walking through daily pain for 17 years has had its mountains high and valleys low, but nothing prepared me for the emotional heaviness that would fall. The doctor said it would be a simple, quick recovery. But seven toes broken, 10 incisions and over 50 stitches were not simple and the recovery was not quick. The pain was unbearable and the heaviness so thick that I wondered if I could ever come out of it. I wondered if I would ever walk again. The days turned into weeks and weeks into months and my heart would sink and rise in and out of heartache.
I have always faced life with perseverance and I will not waste a day mentality. Pushing through the chronic pain to achieve the level of normality to keep me sane. Pushing through the lies and believing and the true goodness of God. Believing that His faithfulness was not and is not dependent on my circumstances but on His nature. His kindness has been my Compass guiding me through waters of uncertainty. But in the season, He seemed quiet and still when I needed Him to be loud and boisterous, filling my bedroom and heart with crazy joy.
People would say, “You have all this time to sit, what is God teaching you?” What is God teaching me? Does a father break his child’s leg to teach them a lesson? I would cry out to the Father, “Did you allow this all to happen to get me still enough to teach me a lesson? You could have just told me.” I would rant and rave and unravel my pain and still in it all – silence. Then one day, sitting on the back porch, bundled up from a chilling March air, I felt the presence of Jesus in such a real and tangible way and finally He spoke, and the conversation went like this:
“Melissa, I am not sitting across from you cramming truth down your throat because you were still and cannot go anywhere. I am not taking advantage of this time to teach you a lesson. I’m sitting next to you, holding your hand, crying with you and inviting you into a season of stillness, reflection and beauty. Beautiful Melissa, look into the woods. What do you see? I responded, “It is winter. I see the forest. Hundreds of trees. Trees that look dead. Barren.”
He replied, “Yes, but don’t you love how far you can see? Don’t you love the clarity that winter brings?”
Immediately clarity came into my mind and heart. The fog lifted and the arms of a friend, my truest and most beautiful friend wrapped around me like the thickest, warmest blanket. Immediately I found myself understood. There I was in the middle of my winter – winter of the soul and winter of my world. There I was in His presence, full of His beauty, full of His friendship. The clarity was Him – His comfort, His tenderness, His ability to reach into my sorrow and be present.
The dark night of my thoughts submitted to the bright light of Jesus. He spoke again. “If you walked into the woods and began to scream and shout to the tallest oak and the mighty maple, ‘Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. You will bloom again one day. Don’t be disheartened, you will one day be covered with your brilliant leaves; spring will come,’ they would lean down into your humanity and speak with wisdom so deep it would rattle your soul.
“They would say, ‘Small person, we are not afraid. We are at rest. We are not anxious. We know that in the chill of winter, we dig our roots deep into the earth. We are not dead and barren as you think. We are alive and growing. We know that even in seasons of stillness we grow, sometimes more than in seasons of fruitfulness.’ Melissa, I’m not trying to teach you anything; I am wooing you into a gift. I am sending you an invitation, one that will change you forever. I sit next to you, holding your hand and whispering truth into your heart. This winter is your deepening.”
I saw in that moment I had misinterpreted the intent of the season. I have misinterpreted the intent of the Father. The gift was the restoration of my understanding of the nature of Jesus. The gift was Jesus not giving me what I thought I wanted but healing my ability to understand Him. Healing my trust in him. Healing my thoughts. Isn’t that as much of a miracle as healing of our bodies? To be made new in our minds. To think again and be made new in our perceptions.
What I perceive now since that porch moment is that He is always present; sometimes I just need to look around. Sometimes I need to look again.