Plenty

Plenty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

Plenty

My last day of teaching with the school district was on a Friday. The family came to celebrate with me on Sunday, and by 8:00 p.m. an ambulance was rushing me to the emergency room. By 10:00 I was being slowly moved into the dark cave of medical machinery for an MRI to determine what was causing the shattering pain in my back and right leg.

I tried to suppress my panic and fear, but I was anxiously grieving for all the plans I had for that summer. No hiking. No teaching a summer class at the university. No trips. No beginning of the new phase of life that had been beckoning me to go do something for the Lord. I tried to put on a brave smile for the technician.

I closed my eyes as I was rolled into the narrow world of the MRI machine. I heard the technician remind me to try not to move. I prayed between gulps of breath. Then, gradually, with my eyes closed I became unaware of the tightness of the enclosure, the possibility of claustrophobia, or the caution to be extremely still. Instead, under my eyelids I saw light. I felt bathed in it, warmed by it and comforted. I knew with a deep knowing that there was a kind of healing already taking place. Even in great pain, something was healing. When I was informed later that I needed a second MRI that night, I found myself almost smiling in anticipation of this sweet and totally unexpected gift of consolation and love. Again, there was the light, and warmth and sweetness of knowing that something beautiful was happening even though I was hurting.

Later, the weary doctor informed me that I had a ruptured disc, nerve damage and a small tumor on my spine. Several days later he performed surgery and pronounced it successful.

I returned on unwieldy crutches to my small three-level townhome to find that my daughters had moved a mattress into the middle of the living room floor near the TV. It was surrounded by items I would need: some books, a telephone, Kleenex, and pain pills. With no way to manage stairs, I wouldn’t have access to a bath or shower, my bedroom, my office and computer, or my closet of clothes.

My new world would be anything I could reach from the mattress. My daughters would visit and bring me delicious cold drinks, because the refrigerator might as well have been in another country. In the fog of medications I wondered if I would ever walk again, because even with crutches I could barely stand. Within my small world I would sleep, read, pray and try to keep track of the days.

My right leg continued to be numb, but as the days went by I was able to start hobbling from mattress to couch to refrigerator to the small guest bathroom. I was an adventurer in my own home, rediscovering how wonderful it is to be able to move about at all! There were unexplored paths and familiar ones. As well as the physical distances to re-discover, I took inner journeys and found neglected memories to re-live, stories to be recalled, dear faces to be remembered and blessings to be counted.

Yes, something transformative had happened when I had those two MRIs. I hadn’t been promised that I would heal perfectly or that I would be able to do all I had planned to do. I had been given a greater gift: the knowledge that no matter what happened I would not be alone and I would be given what was necessary for that day, for that moment. I would begin to see my world through new eyes. It was enough.

In the fall, as I continued to recover, a friend gave me a small painting. It simply features a bowl of lovely fruit on a checked tablecloth with the word “plenty” painted below it. Every day I look upon that little piece of art and recognize the deep truth of it. My leg didn’t heal fully. Especially in the mornings I walk hunched over with little tentative steps. It doesn’t matter. When I thought I had lost so much I was given a gift of plenty. Within the confines of the MRI where I could have been consumed with fear, I had been given warmth and consolation. Within my small living room, residing on the island of my mattress, I had traveled within my heart and memories and found riches. I had been given the “plenty” of my daughters’ love, devotion and compassion.

By nature I can let shortsighted anxiety fill spaces in my heart that I would prefer to have inhabited by optimism and hope. In beautiful churches I have tried to leave my worries behind, and stop fretting over a future that isn’t mine to know. Yet, it was during an MRI, vulnerable and in pain, that I found a different kind of cathedral where I was allowed to see that within even the smallest moment, there is plenty.

~ Caroline S. McKinney ~

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