Monday, January 18, 2010

Like a green olive tree

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8.

To understand why this verse might be significant for a person who experiences so much pain, it is necessary to know the characteristics of a green olive tree. This robust tree can live for centuries, even in dry, barren, and rocky places. To harvest the olives in Biblical times, the green olive tree would be beaten with sticks to knock the fruit from its branches. In spite of that, the tree would continue to produce new fruit. The strength of this tree comes from its roots, which go deep into the earth. The green olive tree’s roots are so deep and so strong that they survive even if the trunk is burned or cut down. The roots will send up new shoots, and they will bear fruit. The green olive tree knows how to survive and thrive even in the harshest of environments.

If you live with trigeminal neuralgia or other types of face pain, you have experienced a hostile environment. Years ago I felt that my body had become my own prison. By God’s grace, I was released from the pain. I went back to a “normal life,” and was teaching a Bible study for the ladies’ group at my church. In the course of the study, we discussed Psalm 52:8 and another verse about an olive tree, Deuteronomy 24:20. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

I cautioned the ladies to preserve some of the fruit that they bear for people that God will send to them. It’s so easy to get depleted, to have every piece of fruit (or every bit of energy) taken from us. Today’s demands are heavy: careers, children, aging parents, ministries, volunteer activities, and church functions. The list is endless, and our heavy obligations can leave us with no time or energy to help someone that the Lord puts in our path. At the time I wasn’t working, but a few months later I returned to the work force.

Last March, I went on a business trip to meet with a group of people who were experiencing facial pain. A couple of hours before I departed, I was gripped with terrible pain. It radiated from my jaws and into my face. The pain left during the last leg of the flight, but when I arrived at my destination I was exhausted. I enjoyed the visit, and it was soon time to return home to Florida. I was on a tight schedule, with an appointment the day after my return.

I learned that my schedule was going to be much tighter than I expected. The weather caused flights to Florida to be cancelled for the day. I left the airport and went to a nearby hotel. The first thing I did when I walked into my room was take the Gideon’s Bible from the desk. I don’t ordinarily open the Bible and read it where it falls, but on this day I was desperate. I wanted a word to calm my frustration. I looked at the open page and began to read Deuteronomy 24:20. Tears fell down my cheeks as I realized that I had ceased to bear fruit. I had nothing left to give to strangers, to the fatherless, or to widows. In fact, I had nothing to give to my family. I was always in need of their strength and support.

I surveyed my life that day and realized that my roots had not found the nourishment they so desperately needed. In Gainesville I had not found a church that I could call “home.” I was living away from my family and saw my husband only on the weekends. I missed him terribly. My noisy neighbors got home from work every morning at 3:00 a.m., and sleeping through the night was difficult. Worst of all, my own pain continued to increase.

Had I forgotten about God? No. I still read my Bible each morning. I was sad because life had become so difficult. I wondered why I was having so much pain in my jaws and neck, and I longed for home. I faced this fact: circumstances had beaten me down.

That day in the airport hotel, I asked God to restore me. Because I had experienced trigeminal neuralgia, I knew that that the current pain was very different. It wasn’t long before I began to notice some things that pointed to the root of my facial pain. For example, my teeth, which had always been straight, had become crowded and crooked.

In the diagnostic process, the facial pain and jaw dysfunction grew worse. I could not continue working, but I had answers about the root of the pain. Having a diagnosis gave me some relief, but it did not make the pain stop. It was clearly caused by my jaws, which were often locking shut. I resigned from my job and stayed home. Several months went by before I began to feel better. My body rebelled if I moved around a lot, so I stayed still. Very still.

Sometimes the Lord wants us to be still, to wait for Him. Sometimes we have no choice. It was while I stayed still that I could really focus on Jesus. My roots began to receive the nourishment they needed. Jesus is my source of strength, the One who helps me grow.

Although I was overwhelmed and beaten, my roots had not died. Your roots are still alive. You can also experience growth and restoration. We are like green olive trees, and the Lord wants us to bear fruit. We will be able to help the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger once again… with God’s help.

Have you read With Great Mercy?   A follow-up post to the green olive tree is available.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Believe: no pain, no fear

Can you imagine your life without facial neuralgias or TMD? After pain has been around a long time, it becomes difficult to remember what it is like to “live a normal life.”

I remember when my bed became my home. Hope was gone, and I was preoccupied with why God would not let me die. I wanted to escape the pain, so I prayed constantly to die. Visualizing myself as a well person was a difficult thing to do. Sometimes the seconds seemed like eternity as the pain “electrocuted” the right side of my face and my right eye. During these times, I visualized Jesus. It wasn’t long before my prayer changed.

As the Lord began to pour out His tender mercies, I gained the courage to say another prayer. “Lord help me live. Let me be free from this pain so that I can help others.” Hope returned, and I knew that better days were ahead. It was still difficult for me to picture myself as a healthy person, but my relationship with Jesus Christ had grown. I thought more about Him than I thought about me.

Faith is a wonderful thing. It transcends pain and sorrow. It gives one the courage to believe. I believed that trigeminal neuralgia would leave me. Through God’s grace, I fought the fear of the pain itself. Every day I felt that I was closer to being free of trigeminal neuralgia.

Then one day as my mother and close friends gathered around me, the pain left. The fear was gone. The Lord had intervened.

Since then, I have had plenty of challenges. My jaws have caused more facial pain, but I am thrilled to say that I am doing so much better. Six months ago, it was difficult to imagine myself doing 50 minutes of cardio, but now this is a reality. I can chew and talk, things that seemed impossible just six months ago.

The Lord gives each of us a measure of faith. It might be dormant in your life, but it is there. Don’t be afraid to visualize yourself as a well person. You have nothing to lose but fear and pain. God bless you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cold weather and trigeminal neuralgia


As cold weather blasts through many parts of the country, my friends with trigeminal neuralgia are having episodes of facial pain. My prayers are with everyone who is currently having this experience.

I remember last year at this time. I was hearing from so many people whose pain had been triggered by the cold weather. In fact, three months of cold weather had left many people both exasperated and exhausted. Because I know first-hand the excruciating pain of trigeminal neuralgia and glossopharyngeal neuralgia, I have great empathy for anyone who is suffering with these disabilities.

Last year I was working for TNA, The Facial Pain Association when the cold weather blanketed the country. To communicate with so many people who had facial pain was very humbling. If you talked to me or emailed me during that time, please know that your story – your plight – touched me. I may not know your name, your face, or even your voice, but I know your struggle.

The severity of this pain can transcend the physical body and permeate the human spirit. It can cause a person to lose hope, to feel alone, and to wonder how he or she can keep going.

Last year I was experiencing excruciating pain of my own. I had nerve pain in my face, but it was caused by my jaws. What triggered it the most was talking, and talking was part of my job. I don’t talk so much these days, and I am experiencing a season of quietness. The quiet is like a good night, soft and comforting. It leaves me feeling rested and refreshed.

Don’t neglect your spirit while you weather the storm. My prayer is that everyone with facial pain will find relief from the pain and will be rejuvenated. I found strength when I searched the Bible for a way to cope with the pain.

To those of you who are reading With Great Mercy, I hope you will be blessed.