Having to wear a back brace taught many lessons-one of them was humility.
I remember the evening I got back from basketball practice. Mum went to the extra effort to pick me up.
Walking from the car to our home, my back hurt. Really badly. So at home. I tried stretching — still, the pain would not go away.
Next day we called a doctor and got an appointment a few weeks later. This was one of Europe’s best back doctors. He had patients from all over the country and beyond.
I still recall the moment I lay on the stretcher. Mum and dad watching as he talked.
It seemed a little scary to be in his presence. He had said his say in under 10mins. The weird thing was, he first predicted my behaviour and then confirmed his point by moving a leg or bending my back.
It was clear: I had scoliosis.
He referred us to an Orthopaedist. Again the best in Europe.
And that was it.
The beginning of a journey I hadn’t signed up for. However, it may have been the best thing that happened to me.
They say, that in a moment of shock your body turns into autopilot.
It took a few weeks for me to overcome that kind of shock. I was thinking about what I couldn’t do: no more basketball, no more athletics, no running and the outlook of wearing a back brace.
That last realisation was the worst. Having to wear it day and night. Everywhere I went.
The brace is fitted
So as the weeks ticked by I got the first brace fitted.
Kneeling in a Guillotine- like construction, I waited for the doctor to come in and place some special substance all along my front and back-from my hips to the neck. This would then be the model they’d use to make my brace.
One thought was stuck in my mind.
Heavenly Father. What is the reason for this? What did I do wrong? And what are you wanting to teach me?
These questions kept resurfacing. At the time, I had no clue. But often we only see God at work looking back at our life. For this reason, I now believe I have found the real reason for having a brace.
But it had to get worse before it got better.
Embracing the challenge
I stood up in front of my new class. I did know a few boys from P.E. lessons, but they were the “cool” ones. We were the “geeks”.
Anyway, I made my way to the front. Wearing the brace, I looked like I had enough armour to fight in a battle. The teacher smiled at me, and I started talking to the class.
I said something about how I need to wear this brace, and it helps improve my back pain. I think most didn’t care, but I did get more funny looks then. This was the start of year 10. No one had any questions. It seemed like they didn’t know what to say. But no one laughed either. That would’ve made things even worse.
A few weeks into the year, I just kept feeling the pain increased throughout the day. In winter you could survive, but summer was tough. When everyone else is chilling in class in T-shirt and shorts, you’re sitting there with your brace. I needed to wear something similar to a thermal t-shirt underneath the brace to prevent it rubbing.
The initial goal of wearing the brace all day took about three weeks. I would wear it in school. But as soon as I came home, I’d chuck it in the corner and let the skin relax a little.
After a while, I tried nights. That was a challenge. I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. If I did sleep, I’d wake up an hour or two later, ripping open the chest strap and again lugging it to the other end of the room.
It got better as time progressed, but every 2–3 months I needed readjustment, and it was painful for the first weeks. Just think of it as braces. But for your whole back.
If you’ve had braces, you know what I’m talking about.
The initial pain seems crazy, but then you get used to it. That is until the next checkup is due.
So I tried to smile and face the challenges. Some days were great. Others were horrid. But most of the time, I tried connecting with others and talk about non-brace-related things. Life went on, and I started asking questions.
I had never really understood how it was supposed to work, until one day I asked the doctor what the aim of the game was.
How was it supposed to work?
The brace aimed at putting pressure on the areas, where my spine curved. These areas would press against my muscles to help me grow straight. This would’ve been great if I wasn’t an almost fully grown adult.
In the two years, I wore the brace, I could correct the rotation of my spine by a few degrees.
However, I learnt more by actually focusing on my body. Listening to what it was telling me. I went to physiotherapy, only to find the exercises they showed me, strengthened the wrong muscle. So in search of a therapy expert, my mum found an Osteopath, who knew his stuff.
He gave me 7 exercises I’ve tried to do every other day.
They were my lifesaver.
The reason I gave up wearing the brace one day.
All good things come to an end.
I had been wearing my armour for about two years.
My girlfriend at the time didn’t mind it. Other things brought that relationship to an end. I’m now with the girl of my dreams and couldn’t be happier.
Anyway, the armour had to come off the warrior.
I was determined to make it happen. But how do you do that?
It wasn’t as simple as just not wearing it.
Over the years, my back muscles had weakened. So much so, that I couldn’t go without wearing the brace for at least a few hours a day. I tried doing my exercises more regularly, and that has been the beginning of the end. Slowly I reduced the hours of wearing the brace and replaced it with a lot of stretching and exercises.
Throughout those years, I did stop playing basketball. But I kept running and made stretching an essential part of the workout. Keeping active has been an amazing way, in which I was able to improve my health physically and mentally.
The mental lessons I’ve learnt will stick with me for life.
It was extremely tough at the time, but looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on all I learnt.
So finally, here’s the punchline you’ve been waiting for. The time in my armour made me soft from the inside. I learnt that I’m not the greatest out there. I wasn’t the best looking young man. I was a boy in his teens, with Akne scars in his face and a plastic brace on his back, that made tying shoelaces one of the most difficult tasks of the day.
But that’s okay. And I can say that now, with confidence. Because my father in heaven was shaping me.
I remember reading a passage from Jeremiah. Jeremiah was ordered to go to the potters’ house. Observing his work, God spoke to him. The warning that was spoken to Jeremiah concerned the Israelites.
O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
We are like Israel in that sense. God shapes us. And he moulds us into vessels that will be useful to him. I was being shaped physically and spiritually. The shaping took place to help me grow as a God-fearing Christian. As a believer. I learnt what it meant to go through pain. This wasn’t anything compared to what Christ went through. But I could partially understand his struggles.
What resulted from this time of shaping? A different young man. I was ready to get baptised into the saving name of Jesus. I was ready to stand up for my faith, whatever came my way.
Looking back, I can see how my heavenly father carried me in this time of trouble. He still does, but I’ve gotten a little too comfortable. I seem to have it all at the moment. And that can be dangerous for my faith.
So what can you learn from my story?
Be willing to be shaped.
If you’re a believer or not, this statement is true for both.
We need to be willing to let God shape us. We need to be adaptable and ready for a change. We need to see opportunities out there and seize them. But also be humble enough to recognise failure and setbacks. Dreaming big is great, but you need to be ready also to take a step back if you’re facing a challenge.
I was shaped to learn humility. It was something I struggled with a little back then. I wanted to impress people at school and be accepted as an equal. I wanted to be “cool” and “part of the club”. But I wasn’t made for that.
Whatever happens in your life, you have two options. You can see the positives or the negatives. I saw a lot of negatives at the time. But reflecting on these challenging times, I can only find positives.
How can you do just that?
- Take time today to look back and reflect on your past five, ten or maybe 20 years.
- Try to pinpoint some challenges and recall how you got through them.
- Write out your lessons in a little notebook and treasure these lessons.
- On days, you feel dispirited, have a read in your notebook.
These strategies have helped me see God guiding me in my life. It has been the most amazing experience.
So my challenge I set for you today is the following:
How can you learn from reflecting on the times when things get tough?