By Jennifer Roland
“Which leg has the most pain?” the clinician asked.
“The right,” I told her.
“We’ll be taking five skin samples from that leg, then. Two above the ankle, two above the knee, and one below the hip.”
“Five?! I thought it was just one from my ankle.”
“This allows for a more accurate diagnosis,” she explained. “It will also tell us if the neuropathy is length-dependent.”
On the exam table, each biopsy site was cleaned and anaesthetized. A circular punch tool was pressed into my skin to remove five cylindrical samples, each 4-5 mm deep, to send to the lab for analysis. At the end of the procedure, I literally had holes in my leg!
After being bandaged and receiving post-op directions, the clinician told me that, due to COVID, I should expect to wait four weeks for results. Four more weeks, after waiting nine months for the biopsy because it wasn’t considered “essential,” seemed like nothing. I was closer than ever before to finally receiving answers.
The Phone Call
After multiple Zoom calls and countless emails in the nine months preceding the biopsy, I was looking forward to reviewing the results with my doctor in person.
Three weeks after the procedure, the receptionist called to say my results were in and my doctor had moved things around to accommodate me in his schedule. “He can see you next Friday,” she said.
“Fantastic!” I exclaimed. “I’ll just need to figure out child care since my kids are doing virtual school.”
I’m not sure why I mentioned this to her, but was glad I did because the receptionist clarified that it would be a telehealth appointment once again.
“I want to come in to the clinic,” I requested sternly.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We’re not seeing patients on Fridays. Only on Mondays and Tuesdays.”
“I’ll come on a Monday or Tuesday then.”
“Right now we’re booked. I can put you on the schedule for a few months out, but since the doctors are on rotation there’s a good chance you will be seen by someone else.”
I tried to contain my frustration. “I don’t want to be seen by someone else! We can keep the telehealth appointment for next week, but when I come in I want to be seen by my neurologist!”
What she didn’t understand was that, after two years of being bounced around from one doctor to another, I’d finally found one who genuinely cared, took time to answer my questions, and made me feel seen. These things were a big deal!
“I should probably give you a heads up, Mrs. Roland, that your neurologist is leaving in July. He’s moving to a new practice.”
I didn’t have much to say after that. I mumbled an, “Okay, thanks for letting me know.” And then I hung up.
Receiving a serious diagnosis over Zoom is like being dumped by your long-term boyfriend over the phone. It just feels wrong. Hearing the doctor say my results confirmed the presence of small fiber neuropathy came as no surprise. If you had told me this three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, after 27 months of burning pain that started in my feet, traveled up my legs, and later affected my hands, I had already come to grips with the fact that this was more than a back issue, as doctors had initially suspected.
It didn’t make sense to me. I had always been healthy. I ate well and exercised. I even encouraged others to live healthier lives through my work as a wellness coach, personal trainer, blogger, and speaker.
Why had God written this into my story? I don’t believe He caused my suffering, but He allowed it.
Why would He give me a passion for fitness only to take it away? Living a healthy lifestyle was the heart of my ministry. What would I do now?
While the diagnosis did not come as a shock, wrapping my mind around the idea that I have a neurological disorder that is incurable without a known cause took some time. During that process, God drew me close, and He continues to do so. He spoke to me in quiet moments. He provided clarity for my path. And most importantly, He gave me more of Himself.
A Coffee Pot Conversation
The day started like every other morning. My alarm went off at 6:30 am for prayer, devotional, and scripture reading before I had to wake up the kids for school.
Usually, God waits until I have my coffee in hand and my Bible open to speak (or perhaps that is just when I’m in the best posture to listen), but not today.
While standing by the coffee pot (with my feet and legs burning) the phrase, the five wounds of Jesus, entered my mind.
No, Jesus had four wounds, I found myself thinking. Two in his hands and two in his feet.
Again—the five wounds of Jesus.
Instinctively, I picked up my phone to Google it while the coffee finished percolating. Before I had finished typing, “the five wounds of Christ” appeared in the drop-down menu—with over six million results!
The five holy wounds, also called the five precious or sacred wounds of Christ, refer to where Jesus’ skin was pierced as He was nailed to the cross. Two in His hands, two in His feet, and one later in His side to confirm His death.
“But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
Each wound was inflicted because of our sins. Through His sacrifice, we are reconciled to God and invited to have peace that surpasses all understanding by putting our trust in Him (Phil 4:7 ESV; Isaiah 26:3). While we may not experience physical healing this side of heaven, we are spiritually healed in that we are forgiven and saved.
“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5 ESV
The revelation that my body was also pierced five times was powerful. My wounds are a continual reminder of the suffering Jesus endured for my sake. He did more than take away my sins—He has helped me carry my disappointments, frustrations, and unexpected diagnosis so I don’t have to bear these burdens alone.
To my amazement, all five holes completely filled in, leaving five scars in their place. They will fade over time, but never go away, and for that I am thankful. In my moments of greatest pain, they help me keep my suffering in perspective, and they fix my eyes on Jesus, who has graciously set me free.
Found in Christ
While I may never fully understand the reason for my suffering, already I have seen God’s provision in it. God is redeeming my pain by providing opportunities to use it for good—to minister to others, transform me into His image, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
In response to sharing my diagnosis on my blog, one of my readers replied, “I marvel how God is using you through all of this. Your witness is even more powerful because of the illness. Jesus is allowing you to ‘drink from His cup’ and share in His sufferings. There is no higher call than that. Your response lights up His Face.”
Our suffering does not diminish our effectiveness as agents of change—it amplifies it. In our weakness, God’s glory is revealed. When we persevere through suffering while conducting ourselves in a matter worthy of the gospel of Christ, it points to a Savior who sustains us in our trials and supplies us with everything we need (Phil 1:27).
As far as why God would give me a passion for fitness then take it away, I keep coming back to this: More of Jesus, less of me.
In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley writes, “The readiest way which God takes to draw a man to himself is, to afflict him in that he loves most, and with good reason; and to cause this affliction to arise from some good action done with a single eye; because nothing can more clearly show him the emptiness of what is most lovely and desirable in all the world.”
My brother-in-law used to say Jesus and fitness were my two favorite things. In stripping me of the things that distract from His Kingdom Work, God is providing clarity for my ministry. This isn’t to say that fitness doesn’t have its place, but it is no longer a primary focus. He is illuminating a calling of coming alongside others on their journey toward wholeness and sharing the hope I have found in Christ.
Neuropathy is my cross, and I will gladly carry it. Because to know Christ more intimately and be strengthened in character are worth it. The things I have lost, I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 3:8-9 ESV).
Jen Roland is a Christian Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Behavior Change Specialist who writes and speaks on whole-person wellness. She brings her background as a science educator, expertise in coaching practices, and experience in women’s ministry together to provide a biblical perspective on wellness that addresses mind, body, and spirit. Her client-centered, self-paced coaching programs will help you gain the confidence, clarity, and accountability you need to take the next step in your health journey. Jen also has a website where she publishes new content regularly and a free, private Facebook community for additional encouragement and support (see links below).
If you long to build sustainable habits for your physical, emotional, and/or spiritual health, you will want to check out Jen’s website at www.jenroland.com and follow Jen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/coachjenroland/ or IG at https://www.instagram.com/jenroland/.
Link to private Facebook Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/676514362491122/
Stand up, shake off the dust, straighten your crown, and walk forward confidently grounded in truth.
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- A Galentine’s Celebration
- God’s Tender Healing in Unexpected Brokenness