Anyone who has had a spinal fusion has probably wondered at some point (if not many times), "Was it really worth it?"
I occasionally ask myself the same question, typically in short moments of frustration. These are times when I play volleyball and wish I could play like I used to, when I don't like the way certain clothing looks on me because my back is so straight and stiff, when it hurts because of the rain, when I try to bend over to pick something up and it's difficult, or I lose my balance, or I feel like I look awkward. When it comes down to it, I am too focused on myself. But still, I wonder what my life would be like if I hadn't had 18-inch rods screwed into my spine. Would my scoliosis have gotten worse and caused problems? Would I have lived life normally and never experienced any issues? Then I yank myself out of the world of "what if's" and think about the reasons why scoliosis has been one of God's gracious gifts to me.
It's funny for me to think that I'm a teacher, because growing up, that was one of the last things I wanted to do. I didn't even enjoy being with kids. I would much rather be with older adults. While lying in bed one night recovering from my surgery, I couldn't sleep. So I thought about school, and how all my friends had graduated. It was boring, and I didn't enjoy it as much as I used to. My friends and I didn't have much to talk about at lunch each day. Then I thought about everything that I had to be thankful for-- my spine is crooked, but I'm not crippled. I may not ever play volleyball again, but I can walk. I may be in pain, but it will heal. Before Christ died, He suffered pain that could never be compared to the small amount I was experiencing. Why? Certainly not for Himself. He is perfect. He did it because we are sinful and need a Savior. And this thought gave me something to hope in.
I went back to school with renewed excitement after seeing how good God truly is. My friends and I started prayer groups and Bible studies. I began eating lunch and hanging out with younger students, and found that I actually enjoyed getting to know them and hopefully impacting them in some way. I knew teaching was what I wanted to do. God put my good, but self-consumed desires of volleyball and music competitions on hold and got me flat on my back for a while so I would just stop and realize what was truly important in life. And there has never been a day of my life that I have regretted choosing a profession that allows me to have an impact on young kids every day.
Because of my competitive, goal-oriented, school-loving nature, I always knew grad school was something I wanted to pursue. The idea of writing a master's thesis was the only thing that really worried me-- and finances, but that's beside the point. I strongly dislike writing and research, but I viewed it as just another obstacle to be tackled.
Then my scoliosis came to the rescue. We had to come up with a current problem in music education. I remembered the difficulties I had playing the clarinet while wearing a back brace. It's true that teachers will do their best to make accommodations for students with needs. We see it all the time. Students in wheelchairs receive special plans so they can participate in the same activities as others. Teachers make larger font size for students with severe vision loss and make visuals for students with hearing loss. But what about students with needs that aren't as obvious? To me, wearing a back brace was obvious. It was difficult to breathe. In fact, it was impossible to breathe correctly, because I could only take shallow chest-breaths. But my teachers didn't know this. And so this July I submitted my 61-page master's thesis: Accommodations for the Effects of Physical Disorders on the Breathing Process While Singing or Playing a Wind Instrument. In the process I got to go back to the same Shriners Hospitals for Children where I had my surgery and take a breathing test and interview a respiratory therapist. I saw how my breathing had improved compared to my pre-surgery breathing tests. I got to go back to my brace doctor from 5th-11th grade and interview him, as well. And in the end, after several presentations, I have raised awareness and contributed a drop in the ocean of music education, all because God saw fit 23 years ago to create me with scoliosis.
Because of my scoliosis, God gave me a new appreciation for the things I so often take for granted. I realized that others go through trials that are much more difficult than the ones I experience. I found that I love helping hurting people. I began organizing and performing in benefit concerts to raise money and awareness for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, since that is where my parents stayed during the week at the hospital. So far, we have raised over $3,000. (This also happens to look good on a resume, and without having scoliosis, I never would have thought to begin these concerts!) I enjoy blogging about my journey with scoliosis. It has given me some incredible opportunities to meet people I would have never known. I have been able to visit one girl the night before her surgery, go to lunch with another girl, respond to hundreds of emails, and help scoliosis patients and their families through uncertain times that I have already been through. I have started my own Chicago chapter of the Global Scoliosis Foundation.
Is it difficult to live on the other side of a spinal fusion? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It was no accident that I was born with scoliosis. Only a good, all-knowing, loving God would care enough about my life to create me the way He did. I am curved on purpose.
II Corinthians 12:9-10
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities... for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
II Corinthians 12:9-10
II Corinthians 12:9-10