In February of this year, I began to experience severe lower back and leg pain. It began exactly two weeks before Ash Wednesday and with it began a powerful Lenten experience that continues today.
I had to totally abandon myself to God in complete surrender and compliance. I’m not going to lie—my lower back pain is terrible and constant. But I remembered that Christ suffered more than any other person known to mankind and I took comfort in that. I also remembered that God’s ways are not my ways and that He can use my suffering for His purposes if I allow Him.
I also heard the Blessed Mother speaking into my heart, encouraging me to lean into this suffering and inviting me to become a victim for the good of other souls. To freely suffer in atonement for not only my own sins but for the sins of others by intentionally “offering up” my suffering for her to use. She promised she would never abandon me and helped me understand that it’s time to embrace this cross of my suffering for the sake of love.
When our Blessed Mother asks something of us how can we refuse her? I cried out to her immaculate heart, “help me, Mother, let your yes be my yes!” And I heard in my heart her response: “Do whatever he tells you.”
From that moment I have continued to say “yes” to my suffering and physical pain, one day at a time.
It has been very hard for me to let go of my routine, which included cleaning apartments and office buildings for extra cash, helping to care for my elderly mother-in-law, exercising outdoors, and other simple household chores. I found out quickly that I had to “let go and let God.”
After a few unsuccessful trips to the chiropractor, I was finally able to see my primary doctor who ordered an MRI. By no coincidence, the MRI took place on Holy Thursday, though I made sure after my appointment I was back in time to sing at Mass for the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. I wouldn’t miss Holy Week even if I had to crawl to the pew on my hands and knees!
I needed His healing power and grace offered in the Eucharist and I trusted that He would heal me of my physical suffering if it was His will. My doctor called me with the results after Easter and I found out that my lower back has endured substantial wear and tear, resulting in degeneration, stenosis, bulging discs, and synovial cysts pressing on a major nerve bundle.
Today, my routine of daily maintenance now includes a new exercise regimen, stretching, ice, heat, ibuprofen, rest, and prayer—lots of prayer. The next step is to receive epidural spinal injections. I’ve been blessed to find an awesome neurosurgeon who prays with his patients before surgery and a new chiropractor who on my first visit informed me that he believes God sends all his patients to him. I trust that God is working through the healing hands of both of these medical professionals!
Through it all, I have had the support of a loving family, parish, and workplace. The fellowship of Catholic in Recovery, my 12-step program, and my sponsor who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis but never complains all inspire me daily to “keep on keeping on.” When I’m frustrated, fearful, or doubts sneak into my heart I do what I’ve always done: I cry out to God for strength, courage, and wisdom in my suffering!
I’m humbled and blessed to suffer knowing that God and our Blessed Mother are in control, which gives me the grace to accept all outcomes of my current physical situation. Staying sober and growing in a personal relationship with God work hand-in-hand, and when we surrender our will and life over to Him we must also be willing to accept all that He gives us—even if what he gives us are pain and suffering. We can trust that if He does give us those things, He will use them for our good and the good of others if we allow Him.
Whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual pain or suffering, are you willing to humbly pick up your cross and follow Christ? Will you allow Him to use your suffering for His almighty and salvific plan—for the purpose of love?
I encourage you to say “yes” and be amazed by God’s outpouring of grace, mercy, and love!
Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.