Advent, Healing Justice, & Cake

Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent yesterday and I’m sitting in an Episcopal church in Carmel, Indiana.  98% White.  Scripted prayers (not bad, but scripted nonetheless) and out of this formal setting, the first reading:

“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.  For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense…”

We sit there, respectfully following along in our bulletins.

And I ask myself, “Who are they?”

The image in my mind as the passage is read is my POC brothers and sisters who lament and know what systemic oppression looks and feels like.  Who keep on lamenting, trusting, and hoping in community because that’s the only thing that brings dignity in daily life.

Who clings to the faith of their ancestors, who survived slavery and lynching, and still believed in Jesus, in their desperation.  Who believed that they were the crucified ones.  That maybe if Christ could say, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” they could have the courage to forgive those behind their daily experience of multiple oppressions.  That they could find their voice even in the midst of white supremacy.

We in white culture like to sanitize the Christmas story.  We like to make sure Jesus’ skin tone was white and that all the animals were behaving in the stable and that kids look cute in their choir concert.  Truth is, Mary and Joseph were poor and they had a dangerous journey to Bethlehem.  Mary had to have her baby outside (no health insurance).  Jesus was a refugee who barely escaped genocide.  (Good thing Joseph believed the angels in a dream!)

We in white culture have a hard time sitting with the Christmas story as one of multiple oppressions.  Then we have to take seriously the fact that we oppress, directly or through silence.

I believe that people of color will repair the ruined cities.  They have the persistence that I don’t yet have.  They know that lament and joy are always intertwined.  Healing must be grassroots work and be collaborative.  I believe that people of color are finding ways to practice healing justice, to find ways to heal the devastations of many generations, while still taking care of themselves and their community.

A big part of my job is to get out of the way.  To amplify the voices of color and learn from them.  To take an honest look at my life and see ways that I oppress.  (A big shout out goes out to Faith Matters Network and Mystic Soul Project for the work that you are doing.  Thank you for allowing me to see faith from a different vantage point.)

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I also wanted to write about ways I’m smiling and laughing this Advent.  I’m waiting for my smile to return and I’m doing small things to recharge this month, rather than scurry around like crazy.  Yesterday, I made a cake, along with the help of my roommate.  If you have food allergies, you know how hard it is for cake not to taste like cardboard.  Well, this 6 layer-cake with layers of an Oreo cookie crust, chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse did not disappoint! It’s also gluten and nut-free, so if you want the recipes let me know!

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Letting James Cone Speak

“Such personal suffering challenges faith, but social suffering which comes from human hate , challenges it even more.  White supremacy tears the heart to pieces and turns the heart away from God.  The more I believed in God, the harder it became to sustain any faith.  White supremacy was so pervasive that everywhere I went, it was there staring me in the face -in the North as well as the South.  If God loves black people, why then do we suffer so much?  That was my question as a child; that is still my question.”

-James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

 

There’s not much I want to say in this post; this quote speaks for itself.  I want to be quiet enough, so I can let it sink in.  As a white person, I’m wanting to pay more attention to how I’ve read the Advent story in a sanitized way.  How I’ve been encouraged every Christmas since I can remember how I could respond like Mary, like Joseph, like Elizabeth, like the shepherds, like the wise men.  How we haven’t considered deeply that unless we, the white church, are willing to give up our power, we are Herod.  We are continuing to harm Christ Himself, in the form of our marginalized brothers and sisters, who are banding together to humbly lead us if we are willing to follow. And likely lose our life as we know it, so we can actually find it.

The Waiting of Advent

 

My melancholy side naturally resonates with Advent on the Christian church calendar.  Waiting.  Longing. Questioning.  How long? Sitting in pain without knowing when it will stop.

If I make it more personal and actually ask myself the question,

“What are you waiting for?” there are so many answers I could come up with.

All would be valid.  None would be wrong.

I want healing for my body, for our nation, for division to stop, for pain to end, for all those who feel forgotten would be welcome, for the lonely to find meaningful community and friendships.  The list could go on and on.

What is at the top of my list though is:

Silliness.  Laughter.  Adventures. My smile.

I miss these parts of myself that have been suffocated by grief.  I miss the parts of my personality that have changed drastically in the process of illness.

You see, when I was 14, I was the happy-go-lucky kid.  It’s hard to believe that now.  I was silly.  I smiled and laughed all the time.  Yes, I was young and not so rooted in the world’s pain, and yet I miss her.  I miss the part of me that wasn’t so acquainted with grief, with pain, with fatigue.  I miss the girl who was always trying to make someone’s day just a bit brighter.

I know she’s still there, trying to emerge.

Some people today compliment me for my smile-and say, “I never would have known that you live with a chronic illness.  You make it look easy.”

I take this compliment for what it is, and yet in the back of my head I’m also thinking, “I miss my old smile.”

My smile now isn’t forced, but it’s weightier.  I can actually feel my jaw using more effort.  There’s more resistance now.  It doesn’t come quite so naturally.

One day (hopefully in the near future), I will write a book with a title something like this:  When Your Personality Changes Overnight: Chronic Illness in Your Teens and Twenties.  I will talk about that weighty smile and the laughter that seems to come with a small hesitation.

I’m back in therapy right now reprocessing trauma, helping my neural networks to find another route in my brain besides fear.  That seems to be the route most traveled.  Because of the length of my illness, and several traumas piled on top of each other, I’m spending this Advent season coming to accept the fact that I have a minor form of PTSD.

Living with PTSD is a humbling experience.  Learning to heal from PTSD is a stretching experience.  It’s taking all of my drive to go even deeper, to heal just a little bit more.  To be patient and kind to myself, as I mess up, as I cry (yet again!), as I long so deeply to be well, that I think I just can’t take any more pain.

Simple things make me profoundly happy.  A card.  A compliment.  An unexpected text. A drive down Meridian to see my sister.  On Saturday, we went to Winterlights at the IMA and it was wonderful.

Lightshows.  Bantering about why we hate taking pictures.  Going the wrong way into the Lilly House and being told we had to go around.  Watching kids run and teenagers dance to the Nutcracker.  Trying to find a place to park.  Deciding that we didn’t want $4 Swiss Miss and going to The Best Chocolate in Town 10 minutes before it closed to get Ghiradelli in our hot chocolate instead.  Laughing about how we should have brought in bags of our own marshmallows to sell so we could have made money for all those people wanting the perfect Christmas outing roasting smores at the IMA.

My night was a whole lot lighter because of laughter.  That’s what I’m waiting for this Advent.

To Be a Walking Contradiction

Fall is truly here; and I’m glad.  I love the weather changing, the leaves turning.  I can even embrace all the rain and the short nights.  I enjoy the countdowns to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  On my more reflective days, I think about a year ending and another year starting.

I think about how 2017 has been a year of tremendous growth, and yet a year where I’ve seen my own grief erupt and almost overtake me.  It’s been a year of confusion, of decisions I had to make too soon, and continuing to learn that my health fluctuating is my new normal.

I’m back in therapy working with a medical trauma specialist and last session she asked what I was taking away from this session.  My response was, “I can see all the hard work I’ve already put in, and I see that I still have the drive to put in more work and heal.  I want to heal so badly.”

You see, I’m learning to realize the effects of my illness in new ways.  With all of the mold reactions I had this summer, both from my home and my workplace, I suffered some brain damage.  Since it was prolonged enough, new neural networks formed in my brain while I was living in fight-or-flight mode for several months this summer.

I lived in different homes, bought air filters, quit my job, moved, started a business.  My body is still tired–but not just fatigue-tired.  My brain is tired, and I still have days where I don’t remember words or routines or how to get somewhere.  I notice that after I spend 5 hours lesson planning on the weekend, my brain is completely wiped out.  And I just hope on Monday that I’m ready to go, and have enough energy to get me through the day.

The new neural networks that formed were challenging all my beliefs-ones that I have challenged often in this health journey:

  • Do I have what it takes?  How do I find the strength it takes maybe to wake up and not remember much about the day before?
  • Will people still be around?
  • Do I believe that I’m worth it?  Can I find even more grit to trust that every healing step is worth it because I’m worth it?
  • Is joy attainable?
  • If I have to quit my job, where do I go next?
  • Can my pain be transformed into a life that I think is beautiful and fulfilling?

Some days I feel pretty good.  I like my work, I feel confident, and joyful.  Other days it’s hard to get out of bed, and I get through work, crash and hope I have energy to get out of bed the next day.  Both are me.  Both are true.

The hardest negative belief to observe, notice where I feel the tension in my body, and to breath my way through it is, “You are alone in this.”

Here’s the thing.  Intellectually I know that I’m not.  I have friends who struggle with chronic illness.  I have taken meals to hospitals, and made allergy friendly Christmas cookies.  We have talked about doctors not believing us, and the struggle to be seen and heard.

And yet, in those moments where it feels like my brain is firing in all directions, my body feels alone.  My brain and body are fighting with each other.

Part of chronic illness is realizing along the journey, ways I have over-compensated because of being sick.  So when I was physically fatigued, there were many years, where my mind was the strong suit.  I overcompensated intellectually, because while I had to lie in bed for many daylight hours each day, I could still think.

The hard part currently is some days I can’t think.  My brain isn’t always my strong suit anymore.  I have to do everything I can to stop the inflammation from forming in my brain, but I also have to accept what’s happening.

It’s both/and.

And both/and is messy.  There are tears out of nowhere and things that take 3 hours longer and cancelled plans and small moments where I smile at the sunrise and feel like I’m an 85 year old who’s just happy to be alive.

My relationships slowly shift.  I have to say no to things I used to say yes to.  I stop yoga for a time and start therapy.  I learn to listen to my body before my mind (because the mind can only put language to what the body knows anyway).

This both/and world is unpredictable.  It’s both wonderful and scary.  It’s freeing and frightening.  I see both the ugly and beautiful in myself.  It’s a place of kindness towards myself and my limitations and celebrating my strong, persevering stance in the world.

Even writing this post has been emotional, because yesterday I couldn’t do this.  But today I can.  And for that I am glad.  Yet the gladness does not wipe away the sadness of yesterday.  They co-exist and always will.

The more I heal, the more I deeply know that trauma and transformation must live side by side.  There’s really no other way.

My illness has taught me more about humanity than anything else has.  It’s taught me about paradox, about this both/and world.  That’s it’s okay to be in progress.  I’ve learned about structures and powers that do not listen to the weak and about my own anger at injustice the the doubling power of trauma when you stay in the state of victimhood too long.  I’m learning to see myself as a walking contradiction, along with everyone else.

Autoimmune Disease-Result of Neglecting Feminine Consciousness?

These thoughts I’m writing in this post have been in me for awhile; I just didn’t have the words.  I needed to wander around for awhile before things started to make sense.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s 2 1/2 years ago.  I dove into my healing with tenacity-my anger had a healthy place to be channeled.  The first many months revolved around lifestyle changes, doctor appointments, food prep and food reintroductions, and finding a supportive health community.  The first 6 months after my diagnosis I took care of myself full time.  I had no idea yet of how these practices were forming me.

After the physical changes seemed manageable, I dove into emotional healing–through spiritual direction, writing, therapy, yoga and meditation.  Finding friends who could compassionately listen to the fact that chronic illness takes a heavy toll on my body.  And being sick in a world created for healthy people is a daily challenge even on a good day.

What has taken the longest to articulate are the drastic spiritual shifts that have occurred.  No doubt that all these aspects are interconnected.  The combination of going back to therapy, starting a meditation practice, re-entering the world of bodywork as a patient, and writing publicly about my assault have launched me into the question, “Where is my intuition and vulnerability leading me?”  I don’t really know the answer to this question, but at least for now, I’m writing this post.  And this post speaks of the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine.

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75% of those affected by autoimmune disease are women.  Researchers now know that in order to get an autoimmune disease, a “perfect storm” must present itself.  25% can be “blamed” on genes, yet 75% comes from a variety of environmental triggers-be it diet, leaky gut, a parasite or gut infection, stress, environmental toxins or mold.  Someone could have the genes for an autoimmune disorder, but not have the disease “turned on” because the gut micro-biome is in good shape.  (That is, my belief is that all autoimmune disease starts in the gut.)

The next question that surfaces is: “Could our lifestyle help these genes to not be “turned on” and have a full-blown autoimmune disease surface?

Well, if this is true, we have a lot of culturally pressures, that we must learn to resist, even if it feels almost impossible.  But generally what do we as Americans give into?

Our over-structured, over-scheduled pace of life.  Productivity.  Efficiency.

Stress.  Fear of Missing Out.  Accumulating Stuff.  Hiding Our Emotions.

Our body wasn’t meant to be this busy.  And people intuitively know this if they would be honest with themselves.  And this isn’t just about sick people.

We don’t know how to rest anymore.  And most of us, feeling hopeless, just assume we have to succumb to the busyness and connectedness of the world that isn’t going to change.

But I want to step back and say that the subconscious of our nation is toxic.  We have valued to the extreme, masculine ideals and neglected the feminine to our demise.  Pushing harder and doing more and making money isn’t ultimately fulfilling.  And my generation knows this.  We long for authenticity, for stories, for ritual, for meaning.


What aspects of the feminine consciousness have we neglected?

(And when I say feminine consciousness, this exists in everyone!)

We have neglected the earth, our bodies, rest, emotions, intuition, and friendship.

When we neglect the earth, when we decimate forests, when we throw chemicals on crops, when we mistreat animals, we endanger ecosystems, create contaminated soil (rotating crops and not just making corn for high fructose corn syrup would be a good idea!) and contaminated food.

When we neglect the body, we live in a dull, numb, and painful state.  We push too hard to be productive, to “make it” in today’s world, but we become deaf to our bodies’ cries.

When we neglect rest, we can no longer live in the moment.  We lose the ability to cultivate gratitude and to unplug from external and internal demands the mind is constantly making.

When we neglect our emotions, we hold in or lash out in anger, bitterness, and resentment. Forgiveness of ourselves becomes impossible.  Forgiveness of our enemy unthinkable.

When we neglect our collective intuition, we graduate smart people who have no empathy.  We have doctors who believe that many women in this nation are hypochondriacs.  We create a nation where many people suffer alone, because we don’t have guides of people following their intuition, or we don’t know how to find those people.

When we neglect friendship, work or family takes over.  Neither work or family are bad–yet we have more needs and desires than these.  We need different experiences.  We need to laugh.  We need people to keep showing up because they want to.


How do we wake up?

I feel like that question can only be answered in honest community, not just by reading this post and giving it a minute’s thought.  I’m confident though that in honest community, through stories and fights and listening, through prioritizing women’s voices-you might just find your way to an answer.  Investment will be involved though.

On a personal level though, I will speak of the practices that have been part of my “awakening.”

  • A mindfulness practice.  There’s plenty to pick from.  Choose one.  Stick to it.  Pay attention to the subtle changes.  Warning: no instant gratification here.
  • Yoga, or another form of mindful exercise that brings you into your body and out of your head.
  • Friendships with people who are open to growth and change.
  • Deep soul searching of ways we are harming the earth.
  • Listening to the answers to these questions:
    • What do I want?
    • Where do I hurt?

Having Hashimoto’s has shifted my spirituality in that I no longer have a choice whether or not I want to neglect my body or not.  So I’m letting my body speak, and I’m listening.  I’m integrating the feminine into my culturally-conditioned, unbalanced masculine soul.  I’m more willing to let my personal journey lead me into the unknown.

75% of people with autoimmune conditions are women.  That’s  a hard fact to come back to.  For in fact, the unbalanced masculine,  wanting to dominate nature has in fact harmed women most.  For women intuitively know that the health of the earth and our bodies are interconnected.

Yet if our collective longing is healing and wholeness, maybe then we will have enough courage to say, “We are all sick.”  Not broken, but in need of healing.  Maybe then we would lean on each other in friendship and tell our stories.  Speak of the evil in our own hearts and how we want to dominate the “other.”  Maybe then our relationships would be mutual, separated from roles of “giver” and “receiver.” Maybe we could learn to be quiet in community again, not needing to fix, but simply being present.  Maybe we could risk being awkward and breaking social norms.

Maybe, just maybe the swarms of chronically ill women in this country, as they commit themselves to healing–will be the wise healers, one of the most sought after female archetypes.

Vignette #4

This is my fourth post about my sexual assault by a doctor.  The posts do not necessarily go in chronological order, but it’s helpful if you first read my post on healing ,  Vignette #1 , Vignette #2, and Vignette #3.

I went to talk with a female lawyer, based upon a referral.  I sat in a big conference room in her office building in downtown Indianapolis, and waited for her to enter.  With warmth and ease, she greeted me, and told me that I could take my time and she would be taking notes.

She noted every comment of sexual harassment, the assault itself, and any detail about the setting and the doctor’s demeanor that I could remember.  Then came the dreaded question, that I knew was going to be asked, although she pulled it off well.

“Did you tell her to stop?”

“No, I didn’t.  I told her I was in pain, but I didn’t tell her explicitly ‘No’ or ‘Stop.'”

“Why?”

“I knew that she wouldn’t.  Two sessions before, I told her that she was using too much pressure when she massaged my leg, but she ignored my comment and kept using the same amount of pressure. She didn’t seem to have too much consideration for the amount of pain I happened to be in.”

Before I was left, I was told that they would contact the clinic for my medical records, especially from that session, and that I would be getting a letter stating whether or not they would take my case.

I waited several weeks.  No letter.  I knew that the lawyer’s assistant, who was a nurse, had research to do about whether or not what was done to me was a “legitimate” medical procedure.  So I waited some more.

Finally, it came.  About a month later.  She would not take my case.

I remember just staring at the letter for about 5 minutes wondering,

What do I have to do to be believed?

How do you live and heal with a lack of justice?

I felt in my body extreme tension, especially in my jaw and shoulders.

The weight of being a victim.

The weight of feeling powerless.

The weight of knowing that choosing to tell my truth would be an uphill battle.

Vignette #2

This is my second post about my sexual assault by a doctor.  The posts do not necessarily go in chronological order, but it’s helpful if you first read my post on healing and then Vignette #1.  

The hard part about being a new patient at a chronic illness clinic is that many treatments are not well known. There is a steep learning curve to understand the treatment themselves and how they are meant to help you.

There’s also a lot of lifestyle changes involved as well. So I was changing my diet, I was making sure my deodorant, shampoo and other personal care items didn’t have any gluten or chemicals.

I made the drive up to the suburbs for an amino acid injection every 3 weeks, even though I couldn’t tell what difference it was making. I was just told it would take time and that this was stopping my autoimmune attack on my body. I had to believe them. I didn’t know where else to go for help. I mean this doctor had finally diagnosed me after 11 years of health struggles. What else was I supposed to do except “trust the process?”

You the reader can see where the vulnerability sets in. Here I am, a patient just diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. My health was so bad I had to quit my job. I was sleeping 2-3 hours per night. I felt like a shell of my former self. I was gaining weight, my hair was falling out, and my skin felt scaly. I was desperate. I would do anything to get better. I wanted my life back.

What a perfect place to work if you wanted to abuse patients?

They are chronically ill. Conventional medicine has failed them. Many times these patients have searched for years for a doctor who understood what was going on. They are dependent on your expertise.

These patients often come into the clinic very fatigued and with a low sense of self, a natural outflow of being sick for years. They are vulnerable and must trust the doctor for their wellbeing.

Culturally, doctors are held in high esteem and hold tremendous amounts of power. They are virtually unquestioned.

The head doctor of the clinic believes you are one of the best physical therapists in the state.

Your referrals are all “in house” and you have the backing of the medical board and the head doctor.

And when you work, you get to close the door.

Vignette #1

This is the first of several posts describing the events surrounding my sexual assault by a female doctor. I feel at this time writing serves as my outlet to utilize my voice, not for the sake of pity, but because living as a survivor who has been institutionally silenced becomes suffocating.

There are many ways I have healed in these past two years.  If you want a glimpse into this, read my previous post here.  

I feel privileged that you would read this.  May you be able to hold all the love and evil in the universe together, without forcing yourself to make sense of it, and then let it go.  If my post stirs something up for you personally, I hope that you are able to feel what you need to feel, sitting with these emotions, yet with extreme compassion and love towards yourself.  I stand in solidarity with you.

I remember walking out of the room, down the hallway, and to the check-out lady to pay for my appointment. I was in a daze and just wanted to get out of the office.

As I walked down the hall I distinctly remember thinking 3 things:

  • “This is not the first time she’s done that before.”
  • “Was I supposed to know that was going to happen before I walked in there today?”
  • “Why do I have to pay for this appointment?”

I paid anyway, and I got in my car and sat for 2 minutes, catching my breath. I still needed to walk into the pharmacy attached to the doctor’s office to pick up my supplements. But it was hard to make myself go in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to walk into that building ever again.

I drove home in a daze, but stopping at Aldi to get groceries first. Before I got out of the car, I slammed my fists onto the steering wheel three times and just burst into tears.

Somehow I went about my day. I talked to my counselor on the phone, and I couldn’t really get the words out. I was still trying to figure out what had happened to me.

I stopped eating and I wasn’t sleeping. I called a few trusted friends and told them what happened.

I told the wife of the family I was living with at the time, in case I seemed more withdrawn, sad, or overwhelmed.

Per my counselor’s suggestion, the next morning I drafted a letter to my clinic; the head doctor and the human resources personnel. It is understated to say that it’s difficult to draft an objective letter when your brain still feels hijacked, yet you know that your potential in being believed is all wrapped up in this letter.

As I wrote the letter the questions that plagued me, and I imagine so many other women across the country, were:

“Why try so hard, when the likelihood of being believed is so slim anyway?”

“Doesn’t the medical establishment just protect their own?”

Choosing Small Wins

I’ve started this practice this summer to write down 10 small wins from the previous day when I wake up in the morning.

An author who writes about healing Hashimoto’s encourages this practice in his book.  I’ve found this habit to be met with much resistance, simply because it’s hard.

Summer is the hardest season on my body and mind–so many days I wake up with big losses on my mind, rather than small wins.

However, on the days, I practice this, I do notice a shift in my perception.  Sometimes doing this exercise brings tears to my eyes, which is probably why I try to avoid it.  Sometimes I write phrases like, “I got out of bed today” or “I didn’t get tired driving to work” or “I listened to my body and cancelled hanging out with a friend.”

Sometimes the exercise feels too painful and I skip it altogether.  You see, it’s hard to admit, but sometimes gratefulness brings up this ache that I am indeed sick, and although I can heal, chronic illness is something I manage every day. When I write things like, “I didn’t have a reaction when I stepped into an old building today” I know that my healing is far off-far off from what I want it to be.

The liberating piece, though, is that I claim reality for what it is.  In doing so, I open the door to be compassionate to myself, and in writing my truth, I can be compassionate to others.

The more I am in touch with my body in my illness and in touch with contemplative practice, I live into the obvious-that I am dying.  In Western culture, this seems morbid, something we don’t talk about and avoid.  And yet, I feel this strongly living with Hashimoto’s.  This spring I realized that I desperately needed a spiritual practice that could affirm suffering and also help me detach myself from it, so that my suffering could be the very place where transformation occurs.  Enter centering prayer.

So my mornings look like writing down things I’m grateful for, recording 10 small wins, and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, practicing the art of letting go.  This practice is shaping me.  Although it’s human and messy and ungraceful, it’s a rhythm I’m trying to cultivate.  I’m engaging in the practice and art of learning how to die before I can die.  For in dying to myself, I will learn how to truly live. I will see myself for who I truly am, see the Divine for who he/she truly is. I will see people as human with similar needs, wants and desires as mine, longing for connection and intimacy.

Last week a small win included quitting my job at Fortune Academy, a job I really did like.  A place I hoped that I could step back into the classroom. But I needed to let it go, along with the dreams and hopes I attached on to working there.

The thing about letting go is that is always leads somewhere else–it doesn’t lead to nowhere.

So I’m practicing small wins, sitting in silence, going to yoga, finishing well with my tutoring students this summer, and letting go of dreams, big and small. I am more than my pressing thoughts, emotions, jobs, failures, victories, and the extent of my healing.

I am connected to this expansive, good, and abundant universe and to people who just want to see me thrive. Seeing small wins and learning to let go are daily invitations to a larger and more vibrant perception of myself and the world.  I want to live there.

Eavesdropping

Last week, I was eavesdropping on a conversation in a public library while I was waiting for my tutoring student.

I knew quickly that the woman answering the questions lived with a chronic illness.  She was describing in vague tones, how her poor health was affecting her entire life.  She spoke of the struggle to still see what she had, not only what she had lost.  She still had her husband and her part-time job.

The conversation shifted slightly when the older woman asked how she experienced God right now.

Her response was simple, but telling.

“I want to know that He’s looking out for me.” 

There was a raw honesty in her pain and desperation.  For this is what we all want.  This is what we all forget.

Is he really a friend?  Does he care? Will he show me that there really is light in this world, not just darkness?

The woman  in chronic pain held back tears as she said, “it’s so hard to find daily support right now.”

 

 

As I listened, I got teary-eyed.  I’ve had that exact conversation so many times.  And yet this time being an observer, I experienced such appreciation and love towards both women.

The gift the woman with chronic illness gave was honesty and desperation.  The gift the older woman gave was a calm, empathetic presence and knack for listening and asking timely questions.  She gave the space for silent hope to be born. She is hopeful for the younger woman who can’t be hopeful for herself right now.

What I experienced in that ordinary moment of waiting was Christ on earth. Nothing less.

Two women both giving and receiving.  Both women willing to sit in sadness, to accept reality. Yet in their talking, hope, this invisible force was growing.  This space the women created was beautiful.  A space that Christ can be seen for who He actually is. One woman at the end of herself, another willing to affirm silently to herself that this is really where life begins.

I was assured as these women left, that this space they created together, was actually the incubator for joy. Not culturally-defined joy with bubbly, extroverted personalities, and an overabundance of laughter (although none of these attributes are wrong!) But a deep-seated joy, that can only begin as one lets go.  As chronic illness tends to strip away the people and work and facades we cling to, there is always the opportunity to begin again. To let go, to accept, and to begin again.

I am thankful for this moment of eavesdropping.  To see how close the Divine was to these women, even though I’m certain that he felt so far away.  I can only hope that some people experienced the closeness of God, as they witnessed me over the years angry and crying in many coffee shops across the city.

–For all those who have listened to me in my hopelessness, who hoped for themselves and for me.