Monday, February 25, 2013


When we are feeling sad, remembering the good things in our life is a helpful way of keeping despair, bitterness or self-pity at bay. But remembering the good times must not become a substitute for fully mourning our losses and feeling our pain. 

We remember our blessings, not to avoid the very real, appropriate pains of life, but to eliminate the lies, like "No one will ever love me", "I am so alone" or "I am such a failure". Sorrow is a valuable, important part of our emotional, mental and spiritual lives. We are allowed to be sad. We are even allowed to mourn losses that others don't understand. "You're better off without him." "It was a lousy job anyway." "Who needs them?" Our losses are ours, and we need no one's approval to mourn them.

Scripture says that mourning lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning. There is a season for mourning. It is individual, and unique to you. Don't allow anyone to pressure you to shorten it with calls to remember the good times, and don't let fear, bitterness or self-pity infect your sorrow, prolonging your suffering. I trust my God to guide me through this journey, to make the path plain to me, and to never, ever leave me alone. 

I wrote this on my Facebook profile a few days ago.  Sometimes I think we try too hard to cope, manage, control, get through difficult times in our lives, rather than allowing ourselves to live and breathe and experience our lives and feelings.  I completely understand why we do this.  Sometimes, I feel so much pain that all I want to do is figure out how to get out of it.  

Saturday was like that for me.  I was alone at home, and simply in emotional pain.  I paced the floors, cried, tried to read or watch television, but I couldn't concentrate.  I prayed and prayed, simply to touch God and remind myself that He was there.  He was present, but quiet.  I tried to nap a few hours of pain away, but couldn't shut off my mind long enough to sleep.  I did all the stuff that "they" tell us to do, in those creepy self-help books with names like, "Four easy steps to permanent joy in Jesus!"  and "How to mourn your losses in 14 days or less!"  I took captive every thought, especially the ones that stung like hell when they hit my brain, but they just came back.  Or they didn't. And I still hurt.

I mentioned before that for Lent, I feel like God is asking me to give up trying to control, manage and escape the pain of loneliness.  I am, for the most part, an introvert, and I cherish my alone time.  This is not about not being comfortable being alone.  It is about being comfortable being alone with my pain.  Essentially, that's what the loneliness is.  It is about enduring.  Enduring. What a hard to word to reconcile oneself to.  

Several years ago, it was discovered that I had a mass on one of my lungs.  Because I have had other masses that turned out to be cysts, one on the pericardium (the protective membrane around the heart)  I wasn't really worried about it.  It was just assumed that it was a cyst.  Still, the doctors wanted to biopsy it, and to try to reduce it's size because they thought that some of my chest pain might be the mass pressing on other organs in my chest.  

Biopsying the cyst without cutting open my chest would require a bit of ingenuity on my surgeon's part.  A plan was devised that involved slowly inserting a needle through my ribs, chest wall, etc, into the cyst.  It was tricky, because the path to the cyst passed through some pretty important bits that probably shouldn't be poked with a needle.  The surgeon devised a path using x-rays, and I was placed on a MRI table.  The "map" that the surgeon would follow was taped to the outside of the MRI machine.  The surgeon would insert the needle into my chest, topically freezing me before hand, and after each millimeter or so, I would head into the MRI machine to see if he was on the right track.  That's how it went.  For an hour and a half.  I lay on the table, with my arms above my head, perfectly still, while a surgeon slid a needle into my chest tiny bit by tiny bit, with frequent trips into the MRI machine to make sure everything was okay.

A problem arose, though, when 20 minutes into the procedure, it began to hurt.  Seriously.  I am pretty tough when it comes to pain, but every millimeter increased the pain and I began to struggle with it.  The surgeon was surprised.  I was being frozen, nothing should be hurting.  But I was hurting.  By about 40 minutes in, I was crying.  Still lying with my arms above my head, still holding completely still, but in so much pain that I couldn't hold back my tears.  It went on like that, the pain increasing, for another 50 minutes.  I was deeply distressed, the doctor was apologetic and confused, the nurses and technicians in the room were compassionate and comforting.  But the pain was over-whelming.  It filled my chest. I couldn't do deep-breathing exercises, which I often do in physically painful circumstances, because it was important that I not move my chest too much.  It was terrible.  Still, I knew that if I moved or became uncooperative, the only person I would be hurting would be myself.  The needle was in my chest.  I had to stay still.

Finally, the cyst was reached, and the surgeon began to siphon fluid off of it.  He only got it half-way emptied when it closed in on itself and the needle.  I was told that if the surgeon was going to be able to completely empty it, he would have to withdraw the needle and go at it again from another angle.  I couldn't do it.  It had been 90 minutes, I was exhausted and absolutely willing to take a chance that the half-emptied cyst would behave itself.

An x-ray that followed showed why I had been in so much pain.  Apparently the needle had to pass through some cartilage, and even though the path was frozen, when the needle pressed on the cartilage, it required some pressure to penetrate, which pressed the edges of the cartilage into my chest and caused pain.  Also, the cyst turned out to be inside my lung, and so the needle had to penetrate my lung wall to reach it.  Which is a very painful thing.  

The point of all of this is the idea of endurance.  Holding still while pain wracks our hearts, minds and bodies.  Certainly, we choose to avoid pain if we can.  But if we can't, if avoiding pain would cause more damage than enduring it, we have to endure.  

People can mill around us as we suffer, they can stroke our hair and listen to our tear-filled cries and wish that they could ease our pain, they can love us and walk with us, and when they do they are a treasure beyond compare.  In the end, though, it's just me and the surgeon...or me and my God.  

I know I keep saying this, but I am immensely grateful for the community that God has placed me in.  Everyday, I become aware of some new aspect of this wonderful community that blessed me deeply and helps me to keep moving forward.  In the midst of the pain, you are. Thank you.

Peace out.

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