April 30, 2014

The Ache of Gratitude

In the last week I have had ample reasons for gratitude. For family and friends who have cared for my kids with very little change at all required for my offspring. My daughter even suggested that she would really just prefer to live at Grandpa & Grandma's house. When I asked if she wouldn't even miss me, she suggested we could come and visit occasionally.

I am thankful for meals so many friends have delivered that have saved my husband the energy of making meals every night after a full day of work. For dedicated, caring medical personnel; for people concerned with how I am doing -- all of these remind me of so much that is incredible about mankind. A female anthropologist (I believe it was Margaret Mead, but I'm not sure) said that the first sign of civilization was not tools or dwellings, but evidence of healing. It meant that despite a person's lack of ability, they were still valued highly enough for another to shoulder a heavier load until the wounded was recovered. My usual responsibilities have been shouldered by so many others this last week and more.

This morning, however, I am thankful for pain and illness, for injury. I have never been so aware of how often my upper arm muscles get used as I am now, when my right arm is having problems. Feeling pain is part of it, but finding with a shock that brushing teeth, putting in contacts, brushing hair, holding a pen, texting, opening jars and so many other things this right-handed person does are now excruciating, if not undoable. I'm in awe of the body's flexibility as I ask my left hand to step out of its understudy role and how well it does so much of the time (if somewhat awkwardly!). I'm suddenly humbled and overwhelmed by how much work these muscles in my right arm have done for more than thirty years without so much as a notice from me. I am so thankful for the pain that makes getting dressed, putting in contacts, putting my hair up, and brushing my teeth such an accomplishment. My pain has narrowed my life so I am more able to rejoice over things I brushed past as nothing for so many, many years.

Pain isn't easy. Ever. I can't possibly explain to you how much this past year has ground me down over the hours and days. You wouldn't be able to understand large sections of where I am now unless you walked close to me for large sections of it as it happened. My husband might argue that even if you have, it's STILL hard to follow my logic!

My hope in writing this is to challenge our default belief that pain is bad and to be avoided. This morning it has been a means of so, so much thankfulness that I wanted to offer that option to you, too.

[Tip for you: lying on your back will make it easier to brush your hair if your shoulder muscles are hurting, but it doesn't help for putting in contacts. Just so you know. : )]

April 26, 2014

Present Pain

I had major surgery on my neck last Monday. After a couple nights in the hospital, I came home Wednesday. It's good to be home, but nothing about life is the same. Pain is high, and my pride is taking a beating in all areas of my life. I can't lift more than five pounds, I can't drive, and there's a problem with my right arm that makes it nearly impossible to do anything without my left hand helping.

Waking up is hard, since it means facing high pain and no comfortable position (at least, until my medications start to kick in). This morning I was struggling at 1:30, 3:15, and again at 4:20.

We usually think of pain as a nuisance or inconvenience or, at worst, an obstacle to outlast or overcome. This kind of pain isn't like that. This is the kind of pain that makes every aspect of life into 'now.' What am I able to do in this moment? What am I trying to fight through right now? Can I last through what's happening now? What sorts of tasks or activities are possible this minute? Should I ask for help to pick up this cup now, or should I be pushing myself further into pain in order to recover? I'm having to find new ways of doing everything, from putting on a jacket to putting my hair up in a simple ponytail. I never would have considered such things a triumph before this week.

I've received amazing support from family and friends, care packages that have made me cry, and a wonderful phone call today from a long-time friend of the heart. I told her my frustrations about being denied all my usual means of passing time. Pain and lack of energy prevent walks, exercise, gardening, writing, and worst of all, my brain is so distracted by pain that I can't focus enough to read, either. I told her I was having a hard time just sitting in a chair or lying in bed with nothing to do but try to focus past the pain. My good friend encouraged me to picture myself being held in the protective arms of God through all this, and that thought has given me good mulling material the last hour.

If I had a small child with limited understanding who was greatly hurt and in on-going pain, I as a parent would be holding her as often as she'd let me. I'd never let her out of my sight, and every choice I made would be one that allowed me to drop everything if she needed me. I picture a small infant, old enough to sit up, but not old enough to talk, cradled safely in her parent's arms, watching the world in her wounded state from that impenetrable haven.

These thoughts don't change my circumstances. I'm still in pain. I still don't have any clue what anything beyond 'now' looks like. But it makes all the difference in the world to know that so many battles in front of me are not for me to fight. My Abba fights for me, and his arms tighten around me in comfort when he sees my pain increase.

For today, this is grace that is sufficient for me.