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.
It happened after yoga one night. The April air was crisp as we hadn’t fully settled into spring. My family waited for me at home, dinner on the table. My eyes filled with tears of contentment. I had come through years of debilitating anxiety and was fortunate to be alive.
So here are my picks to the prompt: Tell me about a moment when you were happy, so happy you could hardly see straight. You couldn’t have been happier if you’d won the Lottery. Go ahead and visit one another, make friends. Enjoy.
Tough choice: Is it the day I completed a 10,000-mile bicycle ride and met Peggy; or the night California voters approved an effort I had initiated to reduce tobacco use? One led to happiness; the other has saved an estimated one million lives. I’ll go with love.
One year sober last month, I got to meet eight other ladies who had become friends via the sober blogs and communities. Sunshine, tea and cake, good conversation with great people who made me feel heard and understood. I didn’t feel like a freak anymore.
It was my husband’s birthday. We were hoping and praying for a celebration. We waited in the surgeon’s office for my pathology report on the breast cancer. I scanned the mumbo jumbo of the lab summary for any sign of good news.
Relief and profound gratitude. Healing had begun.
I awoke to a machete death just outside the Nicaraguan church. It rattled me. Where was God? Under a lone tree someone sang and then another.
I had come cynical and empty. But with the gift of song came a rush of assurance. God was here.
“What a big penis!” We were stunned. Our practitioners had all guessed a girl. But it was his heartbeat, strong on the screen. Our boy actually drew a smile as we watched. I had longed to give my husband a son. I was wild with joy.
Happiness is climbing a tree, catching a firefly, setting him free.
Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band.
And happiness is walking hand in hand.
Happiness is being alone every now and then.
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Jan 2003, Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:
At every turn of the neck, the world exploded inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never had I known such blinding pain. I simply did not want to live like this anymore.
That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.
An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building that up in my life and it affects my immune system making me susceptible to disease.
There have been mornings I would wake and realize with wonder my eyes had opened. That I was given another day. The awe came with…disappointment.
Midmonth – exactly ten years before I would start blogging – I opened the mailbox to find an unexpected check for $500 on my 30th birthday. The bills would be paid that month.
There is no word for what God has done tonight other than that He “disarmed” me. For the first time, I was enabled to pray blessings upon those who have hurt me or whose blessings I have begrudged.
How slow I have been to learn the weightiest, simplest truths these 13 years in Christ: we are meant to grow, not on wings of ease but in suffering, and this thing called faith is meant to be lived out with the support of others. The ABCs…..perhaps they are also the XYZ. I marvel that I have marveled at suffering.
March 2003, God wasn’t done breaking me. So this time, He sent me $1000. Through an anonymous donor.
While I have harbored suspicious reserve of my God and His heart for me in these maddening trials, the one I should remain suspicious of is myself and my resolve to change. Even my most genuine, sweetest moments of repentance often are but moments; I know my heart. I know I am as helpless to sanctify myself as I am to justify myself.
Something breaks. In order to restore it, you have to know the intent of its maker in the original design. What is the object of our living? The two-car garage white-picket watchdog two cute kids?
Across the spectrum of distinct faiths, we find that those who’ve struck the purest of gold in joy and freedom are those who renounced themselves most simply and profoundly. Heaven’s for later.
We come to the most famous historical narrative on suffering. Job had lost everything we define our life by and legitimately treasure: children, home, possessions, wealth, livelihood, health. Oh, Job wept. He literally lay in the dust. Dr. Timothy Keller offers a deeply thoughtful treatment on the question of human suffering. He says the Christian perspective is entirely realistic. We don’t minimize the impact of tragedy and loss. When it sucks (my paraphrase), we acknowledge it does. We don’t try to zone out of it. We weep, enter its fullness – I would add, like Jesus. He didn’t meditate himself out of the agony on the Cross. He refused the wine offered him in his thirst, wouldn’t dull himself away. It was in His surrender to the torment that He redeemed both Himself and His bride, the Church. In the book of Job, our Maker does not apologize. Contrary to what many imagine in times that strain, God does not lament here either – at least, not in flummoxed helplessness. He even seems to go off topic when He finally presents Himself to answer Job. God’s own query points to the limits on our knowledge and strength.
The book of Job, Chapter 38, as I examined those early months in 2003:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off…Surely you know!
Who shut up the sea……
Have you ever given orders….
Have you journeyed…
Have you seen…
Have you comprehended the vast…
Tell me, if you know all this.
Do you know…
Surely you know….
Can you bind….
Can you loose…..
Can you bring forth….lead out…
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up……
Can you raise…
Do you send…..
Can you hold him…
Can your voice…..?”
Chapter 42, Job’s reply:
“I know that YOU can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
Why do we suffer? I, for one, realized I ate nonfoods my whole life and then petitioned friends for prayer when Natural Law kicked in. Whether in the way we mistreat ourselves or others, we bring on more of our troubles than we care to admit. Of course affliction visits lives that contributed nothing to it. And when fists shake at God, the Church offers a range of well-meaning answers that justify Him or us. But theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart. Job 42. Where were we when He rolled out the universe and furnished it in spectacle? Indeed we are but vapor. Theologian J.I. Packer has said we must acknowledge the mystery of God. I don’t see that He would remain God were we able to unlock the secrets of His glory. In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or fits inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of my worship.
A vine of dreams:
luscious grapes resign all fear
They bruise underfoot
barrels brim in earnest dark
and time turns into wine.
I know why the Serpent went to Eve first. She had thought God was speaking her language. “Don’t do it.” We’ll talk some more, she thought. If Adam had stayed single the poor, simple man would’ve just listened to His Maker. The Serpent knew he could bring the world crashing down on its head if he could tickle Eve to analyze what God’s word had really meant and why He had said it.
I’m just glad God is a man.
Speaking of guilt, our new miniseries is right around the corner.
My husband wondered the other day what kind of style I’d sport as a preacher. I shot up an eyebrow when without thinking it through, he cast his vote for fire-and-brimstone prophet. He had forgotten how much I’ve changed over the years – at least those few days out of the month between cycles. I reminded him how shockingly diplomatic I’ve become with those who test me. And he quickly ran through my writing in his head and realized I am generally very nice on this blog and will pose no threat to dissenting perspectives. Ah yes, he could see his wife the congenial, cerebral teacher and preacher delicately offering what may be unpalatable in a chalice honeyed with reason.
Holistic Husband jumped and burst out, “A stinking lie!!”
It was unfair that I’d get away with it when he doesn’t get away with much at home.
He dressed the day with clouds and spilled a sea of stars into the night calling each by name The night's aria declares His deep pleasure The universe is intoxicated with glory. The Autumn wind gasps the surety of Winter The geese, one giant wing a moving geometry that angles into the wind How do they know? where to go when to stop Trees give up leaves like paper hopes swept into the slumberous season The gray whale pursues the southern waters of Baja to warm her heavy womb How does she know? how to birth what to eat Spring forgives the freeze and laughs to live again in the resurrection of color before the ferocious Summer The dolphins' dance is a cadence of instinct in waves wooed by moontide The Earth sounds a symphony of reverence. We build skyscrapers and businesses and poems and the tides rush up and claim the sand castles of our dreams i, the crown of creation trifling, a mark of punctuation, know less than the beasts that play and live as they ought.
When he walked in this evening, Daddy wanted to take his boy to the park. As I changed Little Man on the landing, he wrapped himself around my neck and kissed me. He smiled, “I will never let you go.”
The sacred moment hurt – a swelling tight at the edges. I was thrown forward to the day time will have run out on us, ask that I return borrowed breath.
“Someday you will have to,” I said quietly. A weak smile back, and we puckered for two more wet kisses.
I squeezed those little fingers down the rest of the steps.
I have always felt barred from overseas missionary work. The door to service abroad that I tried and tried wouldn’t budge. In 1996, I set foot in California for the first time on a working vacation as a guest contributor to a Wycliffe Bible Translators magazine called The Sower. Through the research and writing, I was in part scouting the missionary landscape for my place in it.
Fast-forward about ten years to the night a church leader came over for dinner. I had gotten the sense that this man who was passionate for overseas missions, knowing nothing of the many challenges I’d faced, thought me complacent in my little world. He never cared to probe, to discover anything of the work abroad I had pursued but that had never panned out for me. That night, he picked up a copy of The Sower that happened to lie on the coffee table, and flipping through, caught my byline. Taken aback, he seemed to see me in a new light.
A deep, sweet realization emerged in a talk with a friend last week. When she expressed pleasure over my writing, I pointed out that my hands don’t have her creative touch and that I lack the verve and strength to serve people the way she does.
Then I suddenly got chills.
I saw that while the harvest of the Gospel is eternal, many things I arguably could have accomplished as a missionary would have remained limited in scope. But the words I have put down, here and in global publications, reach more people than I would teaching English or laboring to build a hut somewhere. I heard God’s answer to the judgment of the man who had wanted more…activity out of me. I don’t have to be going and doing – not the way God made me. My writing is my art and the art, my worship.
My worship, my calling.
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelations 3:7