God's Brave Women - Anna's Story
At some point in my life I started learning about what it means to be brave. Maybe it was when I was a child and saw firefighters run into a burning building on TV. Maybe it was when I got on stage for one of my first auditions and totally forgot all the words to the song I was supposed to sing. Maybe it was when I faced bullying, or when I escaped a sexually abusive relationship, or when I fought back when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. But then again, maybe all of those events in my life were building blocks that were preparing me for something else… Something that required a different type of bravery in the face of uncertainty, grief, and pain.
During the birth of my first child, I was damaged both externally and internally in some very private areas. I did not know the extent of the damage that was done until two and half years later. But in that time span, I faced a great amount of pain and trauma that would force me to be brave on multiple occasions.
Unfortunately, my doctor brushed off the trauma my delivery had caused me. Without sharing too many messy details, I’ll just say I suffered damage that developed a very odd tunnel connection between my private body parts, known as a fistula. She said I had some odd luck, but I would be alright. It wouldn’t be the first time I would hear those words.
Some time passed and the damage did seem to heal on the surface. What I didn’t know was that deep inside me this tunnel did not fully close and instead, festered and created a buildup of bacteria. Eventually this build up would cause pockets of infection that would form in surrounding deep tissue, leading me to have excruciatingly painful abscesses in some of my most sensitive areas.
For the next two and half years, I would be in the operating room, being cut open under anesthesia to drain these abscesses. The recovery was brutal each time, with the same answer from the surgeons: “You just have some really bad luck”. I’ll say…
By my third abscess, I realized my own strength and courage was starting to diminish. The pain was getting to be too much. I didn’t know if I could go on being brave any longer, but I couldn’t give up. I began to rely heavily on God and asked Him for courage to endure the pain I was facing. He was always faithful in providing that bravery to me with each operation.
"I began to rely heavily on God and asked Him for courage to endure the pain I was facing. He was always faithful in providing that bravery to me with each operation."
One doctor promised they had solved the problem with their latest surgery. He told me my medical history was a fluke and a case of very bad luck, again. They hadn’t yet discovered this tunnel inside me, so he told me to go on living my life, and I chose to believe him. I later became pregnant and thought life was finally beginning to going well! I felt a promise from God in me that said, “It is finished.” And when I gave birth to my second child, I felt like I was finally done with my season of pain.
But 4 weeks after my baby was born, I sat in the shower and felt that same familiar pain starting to brew. I knew it was an abscess. I began to have a panic attack as every emotion flooded me all at once. I tried to calm myself as I started to hyperventilate, but it was no use. I couldn’t stand the thought of being in pain again. I didn’t want to be cut open again. I didn’t want to have to be brave again. I panicked as I realized that this was not over. God told me “It is finished,” so why is this happening again?
I rushed to the hospital with my baby in my hands, just barely recovering from my C-section. They confirmed it was an abscess and advised immediate surgery. Upon waking up from the operation, the recovery was intense. Once again there was pain.
I was so angry, anxious, and hurt. It was the first time I had turned to God and questioned what He was doing. Why would He want this for me? What kind of plan was this? I thought I heard Him clearly before! He said it was finished. I took that to mean that I was done with this saga. I felt deeply betrayed.
But even in my anger and anxiety, the Lord sat with me, and I felt Him speak. This time His words were unmistakable. He said this was not His plan for me, that He mourned for my pain and sorrow as much as I did. The simplest and shortest verse came to my mind, John 11:35: “Jesus wept”. I began to sob in sorrow but also, comfort washed over me. My Lord was comforting me and crying with me in my pain. Suddenly my heart realized that He knew my pain, in more ways than one. Jesus walked to the cross – blood, sweat and tears pouring out of Him – in agonizing and brutal pain. Meanwhile, the world mocked, ridiculed and spat at Him. All because He loves us. All for the chance that we may love Him back. The courage it took to do that! The bravery it took to walk to the top of the hill, knowing it would be the end of His life! The fearlessness to face agony and pain, knowing the end result. Yes, love so amazing, but courage so astounding as well.
"The realization of Jesus’ bravery shifted something in me. I knew I was not alone. I could be brave no matter what because He who is in me would give me the courage to do so."
The realization of Jesus’ bravery shifted something in me. I knew I was not alone. I could be brave no matter what because He who is in me would give me the courage to do so. Also, I was now more determined than ever to find the answer to my problems. I wouldn’t accept a “bad luck” response any longer.
I approached one of my doctors with all of my concerns, and he agreed to order another pelvic CT scan. When the nurse called to tell me the radiologist found the tunnel inside me, I sobbed. I was so sad, so relieved, and so scared all at once. It seemed like the beginning of the end. And I knew… It was time, once again, to be brave.
After switching surgeons, I finally found one that would solve the mystery once and for all. He took all of my scans and performed an exam under anesthesia. He specifically searched for that tunnel and, thank God, he found it. It would require one more final operation.
Before my last surgery, I was strangely calm and at peace. God called to my mind Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The verse rang so true in my spirit. God had been with me through it all, and whether this was my last surgery or not, He was already there at the finish line, arms open and ready, waiting for me.
"God had been with me through it all, and whether this was my last surgery or not, He was already there at the finish line, arms open and ready, waiting for me."
It was finished, just like He said. And as they wheeled me down the hallway to the operating room, I remembered the bravery of Jesus at the cross. I asked Him for that same courage. I asked for His bravery. I knew that because the Lord is in me, then His courage was in me too.
God was faithful as always. The doctor fixed the trauma from my delivery years before. The wound healed, and I haven’t had a problem since. But above all, God was faithful because through everything He was there by my side. He walked alongside me on this journey and sustained me. He filled me up whenever I was low. He related to me on such a personal level with my pain, and He reminded me of His deep and passionate love. He gave me the courage to carry on to the finish line. He was there in the beginning, the middle, and the end. Whenever I am called to be brave again, I know the Lord our God will be with me wherever I go.
Anna Gandara lives in northwestern Illinois with her husband, Allan, and her two rambunctious boys. She is a stay-at-home mom, though she aspires to one day pursue writing for the stage or screen. Above all, she has a heart for people and the redemption of Jesus Christ, who brings beauty from the ashes. Feel free to reach her through Facebook @facebook.com/anna.nowell.