In 2014, my constant and unexplained headaches that continued to burst into my forehead and ears and face and teeth had begun to rule me. But through the wisdom of God, He would bring about a healing that I could never script.
So entering 2015, Angela and I had hope. There had been some evidence that the headaches were starting to become a passing thing, even though I’d still get a headache or two each week. We just kept telling ourselves, “It’s 2015!”, and we’d say that with hope and optimism.
In the Spring of 2015, Angela and I were celebrating a vacation in New York City. We were trying to recapture something of what we had lost in our marriage the year before. And make no mistake – our marriage was at a weak point. So while walking to and from the NYC shows and eateries and subway stations, I began to experience a discomfort in my legs. My feet were hurting as if a thousand pins and needles were shooting into the tough exterior layer that lay flat against the soles of my shoes.
We returned to California, and I scheduled a battery of tests. When you start any online medical inquiry with the phrase “pins and needles in feet”, you’ll be shocked by what the search bar results throw back at you. It could literally be anything. And as we began to rule out things like diabetes and multiple sclerosis and hypothyroidism, we began to focus on what the MRI seemed to be showing us. When my physical therapist helped me see what was appearing on the film, we developed a thesis that had, as the primary root cause, something I wasn’t familiar with at all.
In May 2015 I was officially diagnosed with a herniated disc, and the pain that was shooting down my left leg and into my foot was being labeled “sciatica”. This is a painful condition that millions of people suffer with, and it’s caused by lumbar disc material oozing out of its proper location, and pressing down on the nerves that run from the lower back, traveling in my case to the soles of my feet.
This isn’t muscle pain. This is nerve pain. And there’s a huge difference.
Nerve pain is shooting, zinging, and zapping. It’s instant and immediate, and doesn’t take long to develop. 90% of the time, the herniated disc somehow resolves itself, but not in my case. For me, it just got worse.
In October 2015, I found myself in Nashville, speaking at a very special and unique conference for the good folks who work behind the scenes in churches. Artists, tech folks, designers, and the like. They are truly the best group of people I know, and I am more-than honored to have them know me, and for me to know them.
But I was in excruciating pain.
For three days, I would medicate myself just enough to get through the next few hours of speaking and teaching and connecting with these beautiful souls. I’d stay in my hotel room until the last possible minute, then get out of bed, get dressed, and deliver what I was supposed to deliver to this Tribe.
On one very special night, a pastor friend of mine named Glen was leading the group in some a cappella music (songs that involve singing with no instruments). The entire auditorium was standing and singing, and I thought I was in heaven. It was the most powerful moment in corporate worship I’ve experienced in years, and I’m not sure it’ll ever happen again, at least on this side of heaven.
The entire auditorium was standing, raising their hands, and singing at the top of their lungs. But I couldn’t stand, because the nerve pain had gone from excruciating to unbearable. We were singing “My Jesus, I Love Thee”, and I was brought to tears.
My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
We began singing the second stanza, and I tried to stand up for it, but I couldn’t. I placed my hand on the chair in front of me, just to try and gain some leverage. But my legs just failed me. I tumbled backwards into my seat, where I just hung my head. I sat back down, deeply discouraged and in more pain than I knew what to do with.
Halfway through the second stanza, as my head and tear-filled eyes were still staring at the ground, I felt a hand on my right shoulder. If you’ve been in church for any period of time, you already know that this could be a number of things.
It could be a well-meaning person about to break out into a healing prayer over me.
It could be an angel, and I’d later look up and there would be no one there. And that would be really cool. And I’d tell that story later to people, and they’d think I was weird. And then I’d stop telling it as much, and I’d start doubting myself.
It could be a therapist, offering advice on how to manage the pain, then offering me a payment plan for his video curriculum that would naturally cure disc herniation.
But it wasn’t any of those people.
As I looked up over the top of my right shoulder, it was Stephen. Stephen is a beautiful friend of mine who lives a life most of us dream of living. He travels the world, displaying ancient/future art for any church or conference who will allow him access. He also runs an adventure travel business. He recently converted to Anglican, and I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of that.
Stephen had left his seat to come stand by me. He was in the isle, and people were probably staring at him, wondering what he was doing there. But he didn’t give a rip. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and he didn’t move it.
HE SIMPLY PLACED HIS HAND ON MY SHOULDER, AND HE DIDN’T MOVE IT.
He stayed there for the remainder of the hymn, not saying a word, not offering a weird man-hug, and not giving me any advice for getting out of my pain.
In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
With that final stanza, I began to openly weep. I was shaking because, to be honest with you, I was ready for those mansions of glory right then and there, and may have even been secretly plotting to get their sooner than God intended. But the real reason I couldn’t stop crying was because Stephen’s hand became God’s hand, and I knew that I knew that I knew the truth of that Hand.
An invisible God needs two things: A body and a voice. Stephen provided the hand, while Glen provided the voice.
I wonder how many people in our lives simply need a touch? A physical, not weird, not needing any words, kind of touch. We are so incredibly uncomfortable with this idea, because it requires us to do something and remain silent. And if we’re completely honest with each other, we’d agree that we have no idea what to do with silence. We’d rather fill it with words or advice or prayers or whatever.
But not Stephen. In a season when I had nerve pain too bad for words, his silence became the only words I needed. And I pray that we can become that for the people in our lives.
What if God’s presence through our presence is enough? What if that’s all that’s really needed, at least in some cases? What if the broken-down-screwed-up version of you is what God’s really looking for to reach into a broken-down-screwed-up world, and what if His presence through you is the precise and exacting answer to all of it?
No words. Just presence.
It’ll change the game.