Speed bump

It has been a long time since I have written a new blog entry. I have been ill since the end of May. Many days, I am in too much pain to sit upright for longer than 5 minutes at a time.This illness has kept me from doing so many things I had planned to do. I had hoped to take my daughter to the zoo this summer, to reorganize my study, and to prepare to lead a group of Daisy Scouts… and I had planned to devote many hours to writing. Instead, it has been difficult simply to keep up with my correspondence. Impossible really, when you consider that often it takes me an hour to write an e-mail, and I have been receiving 10 or more personal e-mails a week.

What we thought was a minor problem that would soon pass has consumed the summer. It appears that I am going to need surgery, but because of my health history, scheduling surgery is taking some time. So I wait.

It is easy, when I am lying on the sofa (yet again) for my vision to extend no further than my own body. Pain relief, distraction from pain, food, water. When I lift up my eyes, I often don’t lift them very far: my daughter, my husband, the accumulation of e-mails waiting for a reply.

But this illness is not constant. There are good days. And I am learning to take advantage of the good days.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling well enough to drive my daughter to camp at the NC Museum of Life and Science. And after dropping her off at her classroom, I was feeling well enough to stay there and take a walk on the grounds! It had been a long time since I had been able to take a walk alone with God, with no place to get to and no time to be there.

There are so few people at the museum at 9:00 am, and the air was not yet hot enough to be uncomfortable. I was walking, remembering times taking my daughter to the museum when she was younger, and thinking of all the families that visit there every day, when I saw what looked like splotches of mud crossing the asphalt trail.

The words formed in my mind, “Stop. Look closer.” So I did. The trail wasn’t dirty – these were racoon tracks – crossing from the quarry pond to the undergrowth adjacent to the bear enclosure.

My vision zoomed out all at once, dramatically – while I had been in bed the night before, racoons had been gathering and washing their food, turtle eggs were incubating, owls were silently gliding through the sky. Truck drivers were driving, nurses were tending patients at the hospital, mothers and fathers were changing diapers and rocking restless babies back to sleep. As they slept, trees and teenagers were growing taller, and people of all ages were assimilating all they had learned that day. And that was just in Durham! In other parts of the world, my night was not night at all, but day. As I laid down to sleep on the East Coast of the U.S., people in Japan were starting their day: some to work, some to learn, some to play — and some to wait in frustration, ill and unable to do any of these things, just as I had been the week before.

There was so much more to the world than I could see, but as I bent over the raccoon tracks, I was reassured that God sees it all, God holds it all, God knows and loves it all! “Thank you,” I whispered.

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Today is not shaping up to be a low pain day. I wrote part of this with the aid of dictation software, which I am using here for the first time. And I wrote part of it sitting up, which I am really beginning to feel! But I am grateful for the light shining through the leaves of the trees outside my window, reminding me of God’s providential care for all creation – for “all things, seen and unseen.”

 

“Give up something for Lent”

That was the comment left by a friend on Facebook, after she had read my last blog entry.  Her words made me realize that I had not been as transparent in that entry as I had hoped to be:  I am giving something up for Lent – as a consequence of the lesser (and perhaps shorter than Lent) losses of giving up my ability to think clearly, my ability to stay awake during daylight hours, my ability to drive, and my ability to lift a child or a bag of groceries, I am giving up any idea of myself as necessary.

I have mixed feelings about the modern embodiments of “Lenten discipline” – especially when “giving something up for Lent” seems to have become almost a cultural norm rather than a religious one.  For instance, a friend of mine told me about a colleague who hasn’t identified himself as Christian since childhood, yet he gives up alcohol for Lent every year – “to prove to himself that he is not an alcoholic.”  Setting aside what is problematic in that method for establishing one’s dependence (or not) on alcohol, it illustrates nicely how divorced from spiritual ends giving something up “for Lent” has become.  At the same time, I don’t think that the case against it is as cut and dried as blogger Landon Whitsitt recently suggested (awesome article, though – check it out.)  Understanding one’s own motives goes a long way when it comes to this now widely accepted practice.

In any case, I did not choose my fast this year.  Honestly, having missed Ash Wednesday worship this year, I initially felt alienated from any concrete expression of the season.  Instead, as another  friend suggested to me in the last days before the season began (but did not sink in until later) – the Spirit drove me into this wilderness.  I am being given a window into a world without me in it, or at least without me being able to do many of the things which feel essential to my understanding of myself.  I am discovering how inessential I am.  Dust I am, and to dust I will return.

I could never have chosen to give up being necessary for Lent – or (more truly) given up my idea that I am necessary.  And tonight, it took me some time to settle into being even a little bit grateful for the gift of this insight.  But as with any spiritual discipline – any lesson God would teach us – learning that the world goes on without me is indeed a precious gift, and I hope over this wilderness season to find the strength to stop worrying about so many things, and instead to embrace fully the lesson that only God is necessary.

Exaltabo te

I feel as if I were under a pile of things left undone: letters and e-mails and phone calls, conversations and agendas and projects, and all kinds of writing.  (Thankfully not also under a pile of housework, thanks to my sister and my husband!)

I returned from the hospital a week ago.  The verdict was another vertebral artery dissection, but no brain damage of any kind – just an artery in need of healing, and the news that I likely have a collagen 4 deficiency, which is to say, a condition that makes me prone to this sort of thing.  But regular scans and aspirin should be enough to keep this condition from putting me in any real danger.  In the meantime, a dissected artery HURTS, so I am taking medication which makes me unable to focus very well most of the time and makes me sleep more – and which even so keeps me from hurting only so long as I don’t put any stress on the artery by lifting anything heavy or turning or tilting my head to far to one side.  When I am alone, I can be grateful for the pain, insofar as the pain is what took me to the hospital, where we discovered what we needed to know to keep me healthy and alive.  When I am downstairs with the meowing cat and my concerned 5 year old and my almost verbal 13 month old nephew, and the clanging pots and pans and closing drawers and cabinets that signal my diligent husband and sister – then I can only be cranky and not very good company.  I am a much better person when I don’t have to interact with other live people!

I have been trying each morning to sing through a part of the Psalter.  I am using the Daily Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer, which directed me this morning to Psalms 30 and 32.  It was very timely to sing: “O LORD, my God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me.  O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”

But I found that I no longer understand the bargaining that the Psalmist engages in in verse 9 – basically asserting that God NEEDS her – that if the singer lives, she will praise him, but if she does not, then she cannot.  I remember the people who said to Jesus, in defiance of any change, “WE are the children of Abraham!” and Jesus’ reply, “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”  The dry bones, the stones, the dust will indeed praise God.  Or, as Dr. Hall reminded us frequently during Ethics lectures last year, “We are grasshoppers, children.”

And so it was not enough for me to sing the final verses of Psalm 30 – that “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…”  I was glad for the BCP’s direction to then turn to Psalm 32 – to the acknowledgement of my need to confess my transgressions to the Lord.

Especially I confess that sometimes I have found myself believing that it would be possible for my voice to be silenced:  that not being a pastor (or being a pastor!), that not having work as a teaching assistant, that not teaching Sunday school, that not writing – that vacating any particular position or title, that these deaths would silence my praises – that God needed me.  And I give thanks that I no longer keep my silence, groaning all day long.  Instead, I uncovered my iniquity, and found freedom and healing in God’s forgiveness.

God does not need me to be well in order that I might write my blog or even pray for longer stretches without falling asleep.  God does not need me to be well.  And yet, I am growing well.  My life has been restored to me.  Such is the extravagant goodness of God.

“O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”