by: Cierra Jackson
“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James1:2-4
“Really Jesus?! You demand me to deviate from anything other than joy as I sit in the emergency room screaming at the top of my lungs in excruciating pain? You require me to ‘rejoice in your name ALWAYS?’ Even in the midst of my torment?”
There is no doubt that I have had an extraordinary life full of God’s favor; this thought has crossed my mind on a weekly basis since I was an adolescent. As I reflect on my life, I am overwhelmed with the amount of challenges I have faced; anguish, hopelessness, worry, fear, depression, loneliness. Although there are a multitude of experiences that left me feeling forsaken by God, the center of every problem has always been illness/sickness.
I was born with Sickle Cell Disease, a blood disorder in which red blood cells are crescent shaped. Due to the lack of oxygenation and the ‘sickle’ shape of my cells; they get caught in my veins and organs which causes ‘crisis’ (agonizing pain.) These pain crisis’ are usually very erratic and can sneak up at any moment. My entire life has been surrounded and interrupted by these pain episodes. My eyes would often times be extremely jaundice and while in elementary school the kids called me ‘green-eyed gremlin’ Not only did I have to endure teasing for the way I looked on the outside at times; but I was constantly missing school due to frequent hospitalizations. Life with Sickle Cell was burdensome and there was nothing more I wanted in life except to be rid of this horrible awful disease.
Now I could tell story after story about the many times I have pleaded with God to take this pain away. Everyday for four years I have ingested a chemotherapy drug that has slowed down the hospitalizations and damaging effects of the SCD, however January 2014 I hit a wall and began experiencing life threatening side effects from the drug. After many conferences with my medical team we decided that Bone Marrow Transplantation would be the best option for me. Between January and April the psychological preparation began for me to enter the hospital for 3-4 months to undergo 17 rounds of chemotherapy to kill my marrow and to give me a new marrow that would produce healthy cells. The doctors explained that during this process I would develop mouth sores, various forms of GVH (the body rejecting the marrow), infertility, skin discoloration, and many other problems that could occur. It was finally April 8, the day of check in; and my mom and I held our breath as I signed the admission papers to my new temporary home. I was terrified of what the outcome would be but I was also elated. This was the game changer, THE pivotal moment of my life. “Yes Lord, I am finally going to be FREE from pain, I will get this transplant and receive that clean bill of health in 5 years.” (One isn’t declared healed until 5 years post transplant)
On this day, I went into surgery, the doctors placed the Hickman catheter in my chest and then I went to receive an exchange transfusion (when 80% of my own blood is taken out and replaced with new blood.) As I was having blood pumped out of my body, the team of doctors, nurses, and social workers walked in and said, “Cierra, we are so sorry, but there seems to be some problems with the insurance company and you will not be receiving the transplant at this time.” I WAS DEVASTATED. Here I was with no home because I moved out of my apartment, no job because I took an extended leave of absence, and now NO TRANSPLANT after 4 months of emotional/physical/spiritual preparation. How was I going to explain this to all my family and friends? My family in Texas and Illinois was preparing to come to LA to help my mom, individuals from every corner of my life had gathered to wish me well and I felt like a fool.
“JESUS ARE YOU KIDDING? Did I really just spend 4 months of my life preparing for a period of hell to get rid of my existing hell? Is this really happening to me? God, these doctors have already cut me open, and taken me through the emotional roller coaster of this transplant. This is definitely some sort of sick twisted disgusting joke.”
I could go on and on and on about the 26 years of pain that I have endured because of this Sickle Cell. I could tell you how I took Benadryl everyday to sleep the days away after this happened. It was horrible, it was embarrassing, and it was a hopeless situation. My heart physically hurt; it felt like someone ripped it out and squeezed it to death. My body was alive yet lifeless…I couldn’t breathe…I couldn’t think…all I could do was cry…literally. I sobbed day and night. This hurt…this was the ultimate rejection…the grand scheme the enemy planted in my mind to further propel my insecurities, inadequacy, and unworthiness. I felt like I was back at square one, back to worrying about the quality of my life.
After a month or two of self-sabotage I decided it was time to get help. I had allowed over a decade of problems accumulate in my life and the transplant situation exacerbated everything else. Working with a therapist significantly helped, however, it wasn’t until I began to go back to my roots with Jesus is when I began to truly heal. One of my favorite singers, Vicki Yohe, has a song entitled “In the Waiting.” The very first line of that song is “Pain, the gift nobody longs for still it comes.” I have been listening to that song since I was fourteen years old but one day as I was in my room listening to that song I broke down weeping. I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and suddenly I understood.
“Cierra, PAIN IS YOUR GIFT. Sickness is not of me, but I have allowed you to go through these things because this is how you will touch others. As you continue to live your life, individuals will see the ‘handicaps’ and the ‘roadblocks’ and they will wonder how in the world you do what you do with what you have. And the answer won’t have anything to do with you but EVERYTHING to do with me.”
The only way that that I get through life now is to know that pain is a gift from the Lord. It absolutely sucks when we are being beaten down by the hardships of this world but the only way to surpass it is to know that Christ is using these things to strengthen you. It is way too easy to love Him when things are going great. It is simple to walk around joyfully serving others when you have complete health, dependable family members, loyal friends, success, popularity, and money in the bank.
C.S Lewis, a great author said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Growing up I always heard my mom and elders in the church reiterate that our problems are not for ourselves; that they are for someone else’s benefit. That always sounded religious and kind of dumb to me. It irritated me that others would validate my suffering for someone else. In the last ten months I have finally stopped praying “Why God?” “Please take this away God.” Instead my prayer is “How do you want me to use this to benefit you Lord” “What do you need me to do Jesus?” When I ‘face trials of many kinds’ I truly have JOY, because I know that God is working. I know that He will NEVER give me more than I can bear and I appreciate that He trusts ME to do the work. So I stopped praying for the pain to go away.
Perhaps you’re depressed, perhaps your mom and dad have abandoned you, perhaps you have cancer, or maybe you keep facing rejection in your career…all of these things cause pain. BUT how will you use your turmoil to help someone else? Your pain and your heartache will be the leverage God gives you to help someone. Sometimes He even allows you to go through things just to prove to you how much He loves you and how much others value you. I have not arrived, but I am so excited for the doors God has been opening and I know that the ‘seemingly grievous times’ are BLESSINGS. I take PURE JOY in the struggles because I know those overlooked gifts will bring the most value to God’s kingdom.
I compete for the title of Miss California USA this upcoming weekend. I cannot wait to stand on that stage and showcase inner beauty and resiliance. i feel so beautiful on the inside after overcoming so much with my health, and that’s what I hope people see in me.