I’d have to face the ache of my longings. Go deep into the back room, unearth the box to surrender and and open it to see my heart bleeding. I know in my head my God is more than able to comfort and to provide as He pleases. But I’m like my boy has been – terrified over the sight and taste of his own blood, praying God remove the tooth without pain. Tennyson would rather eat and go about his day pretending he’s fine, that it doesn’t hurt. He is afraid of being afraid.
It still hurts to swallow and I can feel I’m not quite drug-free. I managed to contain my thoughts this morning, not ramble into the thicket of fear or worry about bleeding and complications. Though it was cold – of course it was cold – I focused on the moment. Milked how nice the nurses were and asked for three more blankets after discovering the throws were fresh out of a warmer.
I abhor hospitals and all their close cousins. The forms to sign, the smell, those ugly scrubs the color of flat twilight. Why couldn’t the staff sport something more cheerful? The process, the incompetence that lurks and has no place where people are fearful and suffering. Yet there I was, dependent on the system and its machines to tell me if I can go on in hope, can count on a semblance of normalcy to my days. Or if I’ve been harboring anything unwelcome along my G.I. Like cancer.
It was my first time on the oxygen tube. I’d seen it only in movies and on old people. Between the nasal cannula and the faithful monitor, I felt like a fully certified sick person. I hated it.
They didn’t tell me it was going to be so awful. At least the surgeon listened to me; saw that at 85 lbs I didn’t need as much sedative as the others and gave me half the normal dose. They lay me on my left side and I soon realized I would not have been able to hang in beyond those ten minutes. It was rough, even violent, though that was no one’s intention. The bite block kept my mouth open, and prevented me from biting and damaging the tube. I learned exactly why I hadn’t been allowed to eat or drink all morning. I gagged and gagged, and the tears ran. When I continued to wipe my eyes outside the room, the nurse explained the Versed does that to a lot of people.
The good look down my esophagus and stomach showed all was clear. Still sore from one of the biopsies, I realize that one had been unnecessary. Why the hec didn’t the doctor see the stomach test I’d passed already? Important thing is my innards looked healthy and at least I left with cool photos for Tennyson. He just learned the parts of the digestive system last week.
I didn’t tell many friends, didn’t want to burden anyone. I don’t bother trying to explain to people the trouble I’ve had eating the last several years. One wonderful doctor of mine once said my life is difficult to describe. But pray, I did. Not so much for fear of dying but for the brute powerlessness of it all. You look in, you look out. And you see nothing but the unknown dark, hear nothing but the echo of your questions. For all your dreams and aspirations, you come up short face-to-face with your humanity.
You look up.
I vault the sky – blue a trite fancy —
the expanse, the clear color of longing
The horizon gives way
to empyreal heights
and delicious air, my face
to the eye of the sun
Is it calling or indulgence to ride
the wings of one’s own prayers?
I could sleep in the wind.
I hold onto this incarnation of
dreams but the sun revives me
from slumber on a pillow of dirt
and the sweet draught of
yesterday still in my throat,
I try not to disturb my broken wing.
Most of the time, my relationship with my God and His grace are sufficient for me. I know I am loved eternally by Him. He hears my prayers and has opened my ears to hear His voice. Yet because I am human, there are times I feel like an outsider because I am a single woman in a culture that values couples and family. I suppose I have felt like an outsider my whole life.
Upon completing fourth grade, I was advanced two years. The unwanted achievement placed me two years younger than my classmates through the remainder of elementary, junior high and high school. I graduated high school at sixteen. I was also short (4’7”) and timid, which made the experience difficult at best, horrific at worst. Social awkwardness, teasing, bullying, puberty, an abusive father, and coming of age in the 1960s all contributed to my never knowing who I was or was meant to be. They placed me teetering precariously on the edge of friendships, social and emotional maturity, political awareness and sometimes, sanity.
The discovery of the vast hole in my heart at some point in my 30s led to over a decade of exploring ways to fill that hole in the attempt not to feel like an outsider. I experimented with Eastern religions, self-help seminars, drugs, clothes, men (lots of men) and only found temporary relief. The feeling that I belonged somewhere, to somebody, faded as soon as the fog on the mirror cleared.
Years later, when I found the One Man who filled me – who loves me unconditionally, whose vocabulary doesn’t include the words abandon or unworthy or unforgivable – the mirror cleared for good. Most of the time, I feel His arms around me, and I know I am an adopted daughter, friend, bride.
Then there are those other times.
My social circle is centered within my church. I’m part of a weekly women’s Bible study group. Eight of us have been meeting together for nearly three years. These women are married with children. I love that we are an intergenerational group. We are close – we pray for each other. We get together outside of study. As the conversation naturally turns toward marriage or motherhood, I feel on the periphery.
Church functions are organized around families, so I often retreat. When I attend Sunday service, I sit alone, aching for those I know to ask me to sit with them. I suppose if I were bolder or more outgoing, I might ask if I could join them, but Sundays seem sacrosanct. It is the Sabbath; it is time for families.
There is a singles group that caters to those 20-50. The object is to encourage and help them to form families. I am sixty-three. While I occasionally miss the nighttime snuggling of a marital companion, for the most part I enjoy the solitude of my own space. I am comfortable in my own skin and content with my own company.
So I pray to remember that I am not of this world, I am of it only for a time. Someday, I will not be an outsider. I will be face to face with my Redeemer. His very own. An insider for eternity.
Susan Irene Fox at www.susanirenefox.com
May my eyes, Lord, Never
stay set on what surrounds
but solely, wholly, Ever
on Thee be fixed and bound
Lest they stray the Giver –
in times my cup be sweet –
to the gift that Never
can be as sweet as Thee
Or in self-pity settle –
when my cup be bitter –
on my heart, there struggle
to dethrone its Ruler.
Touch my eyes, Lord, and lift
them daily Heavenward,
their sight also a gift
to see Thee more and more.
Lift them off the pages
of my earthly life
should I lose sight of Jesus
Who my hid story writes.
The poem was published in a University of Pennsylvania literary arts magazine while I was a student. Sight and Blue Champagne could not be more dissimilar in meter and form. Champagne is fluid. This one is highly structured and draws in on itself.
Music is heaven-borne. Was God’s idea. God’s people sung their prayers through the Old Testament, though they did not have to. And they sang a new song before the throne…Revelation 14:3. Music will crown the triumph of restoration, vindication, renewal in heaven.
Imagine there were no such thing. So we couldn’t even paint. Your house and office is straight white; your neighborhood devoid of color, the trees blank against a blank sky. We live in color but often don’t even think about it. Every color bears its own purpose and energy. Color therapists use green to revitalize the ill. Green in food helps rejuvenate and cleanse the body. When the sun stains the sky in a particularly spectacular way, I point out the canvas of God’s painting to my son. A woman recently shared with me some challenges she was facing, I reminded her to look at or listen to something beautiful because beauty is healing. Seasoned in faith and living, she didn’t need preachy but encouragement to refresh her spirit and senses with the glorious things that surround. She took time to take in her garden.
Words to others. With these we can give someone wings or clip them.
Essentially, self-talk. People rising from their cancer bed. Or dying before resurrecting to pummel themselves through the finish line. Or choosing fruit over the chocolate bar whispering seduction. With our self-talk we keep on or give up. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…every living creature that moves on the ground. Genesis 1.28. This call is also the unique ability of man in all of creation to subdue himself. When we tame the beast within and nourish our mind with good words and pictures, the body flourishes. There is no thought that does not produce a biochemical reaction that affects us physically.
Words we lift to heaven. They rise from depths of hope, longing, fear, joy and move the hand of God.
There are people limited in the use of of their senses. But there is a power available to those who are forced to compensate for the inability to see or hear, a power that’s also sacred. I could manage all of these parts of my life better. Some, I am outright terrible at enjoying and well could have named this series 20 Blessings I Take for Granted. Perhaps it’s best to work on sinking more sweetly into a few, for starters.
Tennyson and I participated in a child study at the University of CA Riverside Developmental Psychology Lab last week. We’ve done at least five of these the last few years, a chance to contribute to research in a range of child development inquiries, from the effects of media on learning to how children apprehend what they read. The last study happened to be on the question of how children understand prayer. It was a very interesting opportunity to lend perspective on our prayer practices and for me to give voice to my perspective on the role of prayer in parenting.
This time, after completing a questionnaire while Tennyson was busy with questions from a researcher, I was taped in interview. The interviewer asked me some things I had never given thought to, and I in turn offered answers she had never gotten.
Do I believe spiritual development affects cognitive growth? If so, how?
Yes, the nurture of the inner life is very much a work in abstractions. Children are taught to pray to a God who is invisible, learn of a man who lived an infinity and many cultures away. In the field of education, the ability to grasp abstractions is said to be a function of higher order thinking. That is, to conceptualize the unseen requires more brain voltage than to regurgitate facts. (Ah, I thought: hence Tennyson’s attempt back in February to wrap his brain around how God watches him, cast in familiar concrete things.) So maturity in spiritual sensitivity and understanding will challenge and encourage cognitive faculty.
Not surprising because obedience to God always bear rewards, often unimagined. What’s more, smarts are a favorable part of spiritual development by simple virtue of our design. We are mind, body, spirit, heart and what each aspect processes affects the rest.
Tennyson pocketed the $20 he earned and put it in his bank when we got home. I wondered why in the world I had thought I could bribe him with a quarter a few months back when the boy has more cash than I do.
Local parents interested in future studies can write me for information.
I wrote the poem as a student at University of Pennsylvania.
When You find me breathless
from Time’s relentless
still my heart
and incline it to
Your gentle whisper?
Make me to climb the depths
of Your quiet words of wisdom
so to know that
You are God.
1 Kings 19.12