A Lament for Christmas
You see, my friend Gina has suffered.
My smart, strong, confident, accomplished, independent friend has been brought low these two years by intolerable, persistent chronic pain. She has tried e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g to attempt to find a measure of relief, to get the pain to stop, to find out the mystery of what was happening inside of a body that has seemed to betray her.
As a friend, it's been hard to watch her struggle and fight and surrender and now lament through something that feels often like a cruel punishment from the God we both love and have followed our entire lives. There are no lofty words to bring comfort. No scripture verses that ease the burning. There is only sitting in the sometimes awkward silence of suffering and holding on tightly to each other admitting I have no answers. I only can offer love and my presence.
I was right to think I might not be able to handle the tsunami of pain in this lament.
I could not. Tears streamed down my face like a waterfall as I read every word. It was so real. So honest. So true. So pain-filled, yet hope-filled. For anyone who has walked through intense pain, this is a window into waking each day into a nightmare that never stops...yet believing for a miracle that changes it back the normal life once taken for granted.
May you be blessed as you read Gina's words...a lament during this Christmas season that often times feels like a gaudy overblown snow globe diorama for those who are still "adventing" for their miracle.
November 29, 2017
Yesterday was rough.
It began like it always does. I wake with a sense of panic. You'd think my house was on fire. But no, it just me waking up to my body. I feel a deep ache. It's everywhere. I feel the burning intensify. Its everywhere too. But today my arms are by far the worst. I'm nauseated. I have a headache. I notice my sciatic pain is better and for that I'm grateful.
I'm in Lucca's room. I've been sleeping there since his surgery in April. This way no one will disturb me while I sleep. If I wake in the middle of the night the pain is too great to go back to sleep. I look up to his newborn picture on the wall. I love his chubby face! A sense of dread comes over me. I ask myself the same question I do every morning.
"Gina, can you handle today? Can you do it?"
"Yes," I tell myself, "I can do today."
If I think any further the despair will sweep over me like a heavy wave. I get up and help Trevi find something to wear. Auntie Pat is here to take her to school.
"Why can't you take me to school mommy?"
"Because I need to rest until I have to go to work."
"Ugh. I just want you to be better," she replies with frustration.
I lie down in "my" bed which Lucca now shares with James. I see his little head out of the corner of my eye. I look down and he's in his Captain Underpants underwear with the little red cape.
"Mommy, I have a band-aid for your big boo boo. Where is it?"
"Oh Bubba Boo, that's so sweet. It's everywhere sweetheart."
"But I can't see it. Show me where it is!"
James interrupts, "Bubba, mommy's boo boo is inside remember. We can't see it. Why don't you give her a kiss instead?"
By now the tears are streaming down my face.
"But I have a band-aid!"
Now Lucca starts to cry. I've now been sick for half of his life. He doesn't know me any other way. Does he know I used to run with him in the stroller? Does he know I used to carry him on my shoulders? Trevi remembers. Her sadness is evident.
The day ends as rough as it begins. I tuck Trevi into her bunk bed. I tell her I'll lay underneath for a little bit while she winds down. I lay in fetal position and scroll through the latest news of what Trump said on Twitter.
"Mommy when are your going to get better?" "I don't know sweetheart." "What kind of sickness do you have?" "Not sure." "Why can't the doctors fix you?" "Am I gonna get sick too?" "When are we gonna do fun things together again?" "Why isn't God answering my prayers?"
I cry quietly. Hoping she doesn't hear me. She's seen me cry more than a hundred daughters have seen their mothers cry.
"I love you Trevi. Goodnight."
The middle of the day wasn't any easier. While getting dressed I shock myself by accidentally looking in the mirror. I feel like I'm in a fat suit. Then I think of the "Friends" episodes where fat Monica dances. It makes me smile a little. I brush my teeth which makes me throw up and I have to brush them again. I am so frustrated.
When I get to the office I have a Facebook message from an old friend I haven't spoken to since this all began. She knows I'm sick because she messaged me once asking why people are praying for me. Her message says she is overjoyed that she is miraculously pregnant with a fourth child. She wants to share her excitement. She goes on to say how great she feels. I immediately call Michelle. It only rings once.
She answers by saying, "I knew this would be hard for you," she says, "but I wasn't sure why."
"I don't know either," I manage to say through my tears. "I can only talk a minute, I have a client waiting. Why would anyone message me to say how good they feel???"
"Oh . . . I don't know. She's just clueless."
We agree it's not personal. I have several friends that just can't do this. Not because they don't love me. But because they just aren't capable. It must be so draining to be my friend. I just take. I have nothing to give. I once told Sherri, "Aren't you tired of being my friend?”
"Yes I am," she answered. "So you should feel loved that I'm not going anywhere."
I told her that was a good point.
I go upstairs to have lunch with the colleagues. We pay bills. Then someone mentions that my birthday lands on a Tuesday next month and we can't pay bills on that day. We always get take out for birthdays. I start shaking my head like a little kid who doesn't want to go into a classroom or is refusing to eat.
"What, we can't do anything?" someone asks.
"Nah," Susan says, "we went through this last year. Its not your choice who gets to celebrate you."
I start sobbing. Uncontrollably sobbing and shaking. The room is quiet. Micah grabs my hand. I put my other hand on top of his hand. Sherri hugs my shoulders. "I just can't do it again," I say through my sobs.
"I still can't believe this happened to me. This is the third time I have to go through December like this. How do I celebrate a birthday when I'm so mad I was born?!?! I hate my shitty genetics!"
"I don't know," says Sherri with a grin. "Why don't you ask (insert the name of my most depressed client ever)?"
I start cracking up. A couple years ago I asked that client how his birthday was and he told me it was the worst birthday since the day he was born. Inside I rolled my eyes.
I go downstairs to see the client I affectionately refer to as my oldest and youngest client ever all wrapped up in the same person. I can barely stay awake during our session. She is doing remarkably well and tells everyone she knows about EMDR. She spent 15 years in therapy before seeing me. We map out the few things we have left to tackle before we can terminate treatment. I get up to walk her to the door, a ritual that usually takes 5-10 minutes because she needs at least three hugs.
"I want you to know Gina, you are very good at what you do."
I chuckle and say, "I know. I have the best job ever."
She grabs my shoulders and leans down so we are eye level. "You've given me a miracle. How can I even begin to say thank you?" She has tears in her eyes and now so do I.
As I watch her walk out I wonder, "where is my miracle?" Is there someone out there with the skill and intelligence to figure me out? In the last two years I've had so many people come to me in pain and leave with relief and joy. Is there healing for the healer? Will it happen this side of heaven? Or is it just for other people?
Even with all the pain my sister has had to endure she once told me, "I just have to believe that abundant life is for me too. I must be included in it, right?"
There is no reason not to believe a miracle won't happen. But there is little reason to believe that it will. How am I to make peace with that? This is a never ending grief. There is no distraction from it.
The pain never gives me a break. Not even for a second. Its like I am running a race with no finish line. I want to take a break so badly. But there is no respite. I used to get a break when I slept. I'd dream I was running, traveling, and laughing. But now even in my dreams I'm sick. When this first began, every day I had songs I would listen to so I could find the strength to get out of bed and get dressed.
I listened to my dear Becca sing "Come thou long expected Jesus . . . Joy of every longing heart."
Now advent is here again.
And I wait.
I wait not for eternal salvation for I know that has already been set in motion. I wait for a new beginning. For freedom. For the ability to be still and not feel pain. To feel nothing would be wonderful.
I am often asked what's the first thing I'll want to do when I get better. People expect me to take a trip or run again. Honestly, I just want to sit on my couch with a child under each arm. I want to feel them and not the burden of my body. That is it.
Well almost . . . . In my daydreams I imagine a party. One month into this nightmare Trevi said to me, "Mommy when you and Auntie Sheri get better we should have a party with a cake that says YAY!"
I imagine this party with everyone who has prayed and helped. I have a pretty black dress on and a glass of champagne. Trevi cuts the YAY cake. All my friends have come. Some from very far away. Its just us girls and James because he doesn't want to miss it. There are tears and hugs.
Lord, please let this happen this side of heaven!
As a sweet little six year old she also came up with the plan of having a "Hope" party where everyone gets together to pray for me and then eat cake. I thought she had forgotten but James says she still talks about it all the time. But we are all too exhausted even for a "Hope" party. I feel like a broken record with my mom.
"Do you think I'm gonna get better . . . Are we on the right track . . . What if. . . . What if. . . . What if?"
Her answers never satisfy me. She tries her hardest. I hurt for her. And my dad. To watch your only children suffer daily must be unbearable. Oh what it must feel like for God to watch us suffer. I can't help but feel like a burden to those who love me. But to Him . . . My burdens are light.
"Put your hands in my wounds and then you will know who I am," the risen Jesus said to his doubting friend. To know him is to know his suffering and for him to know our suffering.
Nicholas Wolterstorf says in “Lament for a Son”, "God is love. That is why he suffers . . . The one who does not see God's suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love . . . We're in it together, God and we, together in the history of our world. The history of our world is the history of our suffering together . . . When God's cup of suffering is full, our world's redemption is fulfilled."
I've always embraced doubt. I've never been scared of it. I've always believed that where there is doubt there's an opportunity for faith to grow. However if one could hear the thoughts inside my head and the silent prayers I pray, they'd be led to think that I have completely lost my faith.
Where did you go, Lord?
How can you hear my cries and not come to my rescue?
I cannot stand this valley.
Are you with me?
Where is your still water?
My lament is a rushing river and I struggle to come up for air. How could this be your plan for me?
How is this love?
I cannot bear another second. If my children were suffering I would help them!!!
I try and touch your garment, to have your power heal my body, but you move every time I get close.
I try and remember the day I was prayed for and I had gold heavenly dust on my hands. As if your son came down from his seat with you and grabbed my hands. How could he hold me and not heal me?!?!
I cling to this memory hoping for comfort and I end up frustrated. Sometimes the space between the head and the heart is a vast wilderness.
In my head I know that God is good. But my body that is riddled with pain tells me otherwise. Each day is a battle to reconcile these two truths.
"Have mercy on me, Lord," I cry in desperation.
He answers, "This is merciful."
And a part of me believes it.
That this journey is somehow better than what could have been. If the car wouldn't have hit the tree that crazy night in India I would have died in a ditch. Countless times I've imagined the car going between the trees and my suffering being only for a second. No doubt there was a spiritual battle that night. Now the battle is believing God will not waste my suffering.
I have no idea why I'm even writing this. I have avoided writing these feelings down as if that would suddenly make them real. Perhaps part of me truly does believe that I will be well and I don't want to forget what this valley was like. I don't want to be healthy and slowly forget to be grateful for what truly matters. I don't want to go back to the days of being stressed out if I couldn't fit my perfect workout in or worry what others think of my 1980s kitchen.
None of that matters anymore.
Peace is what matters.
"Love is all there is."
There's a reason why the apostle Paul said the greatest gift is love. Faith and hope are hard in times like these. That is why I always ask my clients to borrow my hope.
When this began Susan sent a text to my friends asking them to cut a hole through the roof and lower me into the room where Jesus is. That man in the Bible relied on the strength and faith and hope of his friends. This is why love is most important.
We rely on each other to intercede.
Without love who will I have in my life with the faith and hope to carry me to Jesus?
Love never fails.