I want to preface this post with a TMI warning. This post has information about me that is of the “not usually talked about” category. I am, honestly a little intimidated to put it out there. This post has been rattling around inside me for a couple of years. Thus far, I have done a really great job of talking myself out of posting it. “People don’t really want to hear about this,” I told myself. How do you talk about things that make you and other people uncomfortable? Well, the time has finally come that I don’t feel like I can talk myself out of it any longer.
I feel like the Lord is asking me to trust Him, step out, show my foolishness and watch how He chooses to use it.
This morning, as I ran, it hit me for the first time that this “annoyance” was, in fact, suffering. The Lord was allowing me to suffer to His glory.
Elisabeth Elliot once defined suffering as, “Having something you don’t want, or wanting something you don’t have?”
I feel impressed that hearing about my humiliating suffering and how the Lord has used it to bless me may help others see suffering as a gift to embrace and rejoice in. So, as I throw caution to the wind, I am going to expose myself in a very sensitive and hidden manner.
I have, for the last 20, suffered from incontinence. Now, I know that this is a common problem in women. I am not really talking about when I cough or sneeze or laugh. It is worse than that. It can be limiting to me. It has gotten increasingly worse over the years and with each additional birth. Generally, I am fine as long as I am near a bathroom. The problem comes when I go out to run or when I do exercises or dances that require jumping.
It has been a constant source of frustration to me the last 10 years. I try to position myself and my schedule around being close to a bathroom. When I say incontinence I am not just referring to urination. If my bowels decide they want to move and I am not near a bathroom it is quite catastrophic. Therein lies the problem with running. I wait around the house until I feel that things are safely concluded and my run takes me past a Starbucks that I can go use in route, but sometimes in spite of all my planning and orchestrating I still end up in the position to be out running with no bathroom close and the need to go.
I warned you!!!
I used to be so frustrated that I was 30 and 35 years old with this problem. I would cry and ask God why I had this problem. It is humiliating; it is frustrating; it is really quite inconvenient. I find it especially frustrating because I love to run. I would love to run every day; I would love to run marathons. There is nothing that feels as humiliating and horrible than having an accident and having to come home and clean up. It’s not that anyone would know, but it feels gross and humiliating. My husband is aware of the problem and is (as he always is) gracious and supportive about it.
Then there are the days that I am doing Turbo Fire (my favorite workout program) that every time a jump I urinate a little. I have been known to have to change clothes 3 times a workout (seriously). I refuse, however, to let that keep me from working out and enjoying it. I just change clothes and wash a lot of laundry. I guess someday I will have to wear some depends, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
Anyway, you get the picture. It is a source of suffering in my life. It definitely sometimes takes the wind out of my sails and the joy out of my run.
And I used to hate it so much.
Then one day I heard about these beautiful women all over the world who suffer from obstructed births leading them to have obstetric fistulas. The link gives you more facts about fistulas, but just in case you don’t click the link, these ladies end up with holes in their bladder, rectum or both. The causes them to leak urine and/or feces all the time. The first time I was really introduced to these women I watched a beautiful documentary called A Walk to Beautiful. I highly recommend it. It is so well done. And I think we need to stop avoiding things because they are sad; we need to let ourselves be broken for the suffering all around the world.
The movie left me completely undone. I was so heartbroken for these women who are despised, abandoned, cast out, grieving the birth of a stillborn child and left with this affliction. I don’t know if you have thought through the implications of what this means. Let me help you. They are wet all the time because they leek fluid all the time. They stink because the urine/feces runs out of them constantly. They have sores. They are all alone; many times they spend years alone in a small tupelo where they do not move which leads to deformities in their bones from lack of movement, lack of nutrition, lack of sunlight. Some of them are brought food and water. Many of them just wait to die. It is suffering unlike anything most of us can even fathom.
Many of these women, which are called Fistula Pilgrims, beg for years on the streets to get enough money to travel from the hillside to the fistula hospital in the capital city. Some of these girls are carried to the hospital because the can no longer walk. Dr Catherine Hamlin wrote a historical book about the journey they have traveled over the last 50 years called The Hospital by the River . It is a beautiful and rich book that I wholeheartedly recommend.
From the moment I heard the stories of these women and girls my heart was moved. Even as I type about them now, my eyes fill with tears. I have not been able to get them out of my heart and mind. They are a part of me. I am filled with such a passion for the stories and the women and the work.
When I went to Ethiopia last year I was able to tour the hospital. I cannot even explain the experience. It was beautiful and emotional and draining. As I walked around looking at the facilities and seeing the girls in each ward and on the grounds my heart was moved. I could not contain the tears. I cried the whole time. I had to, at times, hold back the sobs that threatened to overwhelm me like a tsunami. Here is a post that I wrote about being at the hospital right after I got back.
These woman are the one reason that I sometimes ask myself if I am settling by going to nursing school. I find myself wondering if going to medical school to become a surgeon so I can help fix them is really what I should do. They are a passion in my that burns.
One day a few years ago, as I was complaining to God about this frustrating tendency to have accidents at the most inopportune times, He opened my eyes. This affliction gives me a very special tenderness for the suffering of those afflicted with obstetric fistulas. I know in a very small way what it feels like to have a problem with controlling my bowels/bladder. I know them in a way that most do not get to know them. I know the humiliation, the frustration, the aloneness. I know what it is like to suffer with something that is “unclean”. Suddenly, I understood. It was a gift. It was a gift that God had given me. I was being allowed to suffer and through that suffering I am never able to forget the plight of the women. When I have a struggle or accident, rather than curse and get frustrated, I can pray for them. I can thank the Lord for the opportunity to have an intimate look into the suffering they know.
The Lord does not give us suffering for nothing. He always has a plan, a reason to allow or dare I say send suffering. Everything He sends us is grace. Even the suffering He sends us is grace.
It is my hope that my openness with such a humiliating suffering in my life will help other begin to look at suffering different and maybe even be thankful for the gift of suffering.