Monday, November 9, 2009

Bliss


There is great beauty in symmetry.

You don’t always get it in life. Many times, things are left open-ended, without conclusion or closure. One random thing progresses after another, without any discernible pattern.

Symmetry makes me feel safe, like there is order in the universe after all. A bookend on either end of an experience seems to give it more definition. I can understand it better in reflection. Reinforcement is a valuable learning tool.

As we prepare for huge changes in the next few weeks, it was comforting to receive that second bookend as a little gift.

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Exactly one month after Katherine’s AVM rupture, I'd posted the following on her Caringbridge site:


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yesterday, I left the hospital to walk to a spa named "Bliss." Some of Katherine's incredible friends who know about my spine/fibro/artho pain arranged for me have a massage there. On the way, I started grumbling at God. I told Him there were too many babies who weren't wanted in the first place. I reminded Him of all the abusive or just-average mothers in the world. I brought back to His attention the fact that Katherine is the most head-over-heels in-love mother I've ever seen. I questioned His judgment in depriving James of such a mother at such a critical bonding time.

Just then, I crossed the street into a church parking lot where I saw the sign above. Obviously, God was sending a subtle reminder that, a.) I shouldn't question providence and, b.) Katherine's brain cells are His property. Then, I noticed a line of large river stones strewn through the parking lot and out into the street directly across from "Bliss." (Is any interpretation needed there?)

This morning I found out that the ventrix had been removed from Katherine's brain.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow....even to grumblers like me.

Love, Kim


In trying to refresh my mind about that now-misty time, I went back to May, 2008, in the archives. I discovered that I had introduced the concept of ‘memorial stones’ in a blog just the day before the events described above.

God’s timing gives me chills.

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“Bliss” spa is in the ultra-elegant “W” Hotel. The “W” exemplifies extreme LA cool. The décor is slick and modern, but with a twist. Mind-boggling flowers and multiple chic furniture groupings grace the generous spaces. Dramatic low lighting and fragrant candles infuse the atmosphere with an exotic Eastern fusion vibe. Entering the lobby feels like entering another dimension. A little bit like paradise.

But the “W” just happens to be less than half a block from the old hospital, our original hotel, and the current apartment in Westwood.

Our introduction to the “W” came as the result of a gift of love. Just prior to her brain injury, Katherine had become involved in a group called “Mothers and Others” at Bel Air Presbyterian. They are an unusually amazing group of young women. (I have mentioned them before. It was they who trailed the halls of the abandoned old UCLA hospital looking for the sole survivors in the Neuro-Rehab unit in order to bring us lunch every day, tiny children thrown in strollers for the lengthy ride.) As if the constant, costly meals weren’t enough, they took up a collection to send me to “Bliss” for a massage. It is not the most economical place in LA for this service. It represented sacrificial love.

Katherine was still in ICU at the time, facing many critical challenges. Leaving the hospital that day for my appointment at “Bliss,” I felt drained and discouraged. The “miracle euphoria” was wearing off. Although we were still surrounded by teams of encouragers, the reality of what lay ahead was extremely sobering. It was starting to sink in…denial was dissipating.

I walked across the street into a church parking lot to take a shortcut to the “W.” I couldn’t shake the questioning going on in my head. In a way, I guess I was asking God if He really knew what He was doing.

At the moment I was thinking those things, I looked up to see the sign right in front of my face. I couldn’t believe it. I just love it when He’s that overt. Sometimes I’m kind of slow with modern parable symbols. But then, when I looked down and saw the big stone at my feet, I was overwhelmed. There was a line of them going through the parking lot, across the next street, right up to the steps leading to Bliss. It reminded me of the trail of crumbs Hansel and Gretl left on the forest floor to find their way back home. I got it that time.

Months later, Katherine was treated to the same experience at Bliss. As my mother and I sat in the pleasant waiting area, the manager came up and started a conversation. She was moved by Katherine’s situation, and very generously gave us gift certicates to come back for a spa pedicure as her guests.

It never worked out for us to go back while Mother was out here. But Katherine, the ultimate Frugalista, never forgot about those gift certificates.

Friday was Katherine and Jay’s 5th anniversary. They came into LA and we had a little celebration before Jay took Katherine out for a fabulous dinner. The next morning, we went back to Bliss to cash in the gift certificates. She wanted to make sure they were used before we leave Westwood.

We had a lovely time together, chilling in the ‘relaxing room’ afterwards…scarfing down free food and tea. As we were (very reluctantly) leaving, I noticed that the same kind of river stones I’d seen in the church parking lot a year and a half ago had been used as filler in the flowerbeds at the “W.” Evidently, the truck originally holding them must have taken that same shortcut through the parking lot. I reached down and picked up the most tangible memorial stone I’ve collected yet: (Thanks, W!)


...A fitting second bookend to this time in Westwood. A reminder of how far we’ve come since the first time I visited “Bliss.”

The concept of collecting stones of remembrance is scattered throughout the Old Testament. In each case, they are to be symbolic reminders that God has intervened in the world in some definitive way…whether it’s altering the natural order of things, such as parting raging waters; giving supernatural help in achieving victory over enemies; or by manifesting an appearance of some kind, such as in the making of a covenant. In each case, His message is: Remember this. Carry it with you in your heart. Don’t forget it the next time adversity comes, and you can’t see me or hear my voice. I am with you even then. Remember how I have rescued you in the past. Remember how I have touched you. Remember how I have made a way, when none existed. Hold fast to these memories, for I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I will never, never, never leave you or forsake you. Even when the great darkness obscures my face, I am with you still. I will come to you again. And I will act. I will fight against those who fight against you. The victory is already mine.

In this journey of life, we will fight one battle after the next, face one hardship after another. We will be afraid, we will stumble, we will want to turn back. Sometimes we may want to give up, maybe even lie down under a tree and pray for death, as the prophet Elijah did. But God has said that He will help us, rescue us, defend us, and comfort us every time we earnestly turn to him in our fear and despair. We are to carry reminders of how He has in the past.

Carrying those stones uphill will make us stronger.

And the long, hard road leads straight to Bliss.


That is home.


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bliss

–noun
1.supreme happiness; utter joy or contentment: wedded bliss.
2.Theology. the joy of heaven.
3.heaven; paradise: the road to eternal bliss.
4.Archaic. a cause of great joy or happiness.

…the more understanding and knowledge we have by the gracious leading of the Holy Spirit, the more we shall see and know our failings. And always, the more that we see them, the more naturally we shall long to be completely filled with love and bliss. For we are made for endless joy and bliss, and our natural substance is now blissful in God, has been so since it was made, and shall be so without end.” (14th showing)

“In the same manner we know that when man fell so deeply and so wretchedly by sin, there was no other help to restore man but through Him who made man. He Who made man for love wills, by the same love, to restore him to his former bliss, and give him even more.” (2nd showing)

For it is God’s will that we hold ourselves in His Comfort with all our might, for bliss is everlasting, while pain is passing and shall be reduced to nothingness for those who shall be saved. Therefore it is not God’s will that we follow the feelings of pain, sorrowing, and mourning on their own account, but that we immediately pass beyond them and hold ourselves in the endless delight that is God. (8th showing)

(From The Revelation of Divine Love by Dame Julian of Norwich (14th cent.), translated by M.L. del Mastro)

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(Wedded Bliss.)

8 comments:

Demorah Hayes said...

I love this passage from Julian. "For bliss is everlasting, while pain is passing and shall be reduced to nothingness for those who shall be saved." Nothingness! Thank you for sharing.

plilr said...

It's always amazing to me how prescient your writing(s) are to my life/current situation. I actually feel ashamed to say that, considering the problems that I face are in no way as difficult or as burdensome as yours and Katherine's are, but I hope it is comforting to know that we are all in the same boat. It is to me, anyway. I'm so grateful and appreciative that you share this with all of us.

Much love,

Desiree

Erika said...

beautiful post. your posts always teach me so much, and are always so thought provoking. thank you for sharing part of yourself through this blog. i am so sorry that you are walking this difficult road...i wish things were easier for katherine (and you and jay, and baby james...) I am so glad to know you, and observe how you walk this road with such grace and dignity. your faith is inspiring. (((hugs)))

LEJS said...

Mrs. Arnold -

You don't know me but I am an acquaintance of Katherine's from Samford. We took Women's studies together. It was a small class, so I had the pleasure of getting to know your daughter. I was inspired by her "can-do" attitude then and am now in awe of the fighter she has become. The miracles the Lord has perfomed in her life - in all of your lives - is such a loud and mighty message.

I look forward to reading your writings. They are reminders of God's faithfulness to us and his ability to command any situation, small or large. I am revived by your entries and constantly challenged to put my whole trust in the Lord. Thank you for sharing your story.

Prayers and blessings to you all,
Lesley J. Smith

Laurel said...

I love moments like this...it feels like a bell chiming in your soul. Complete and right.

Kim Arnold said...

Ya'll have made me cry again.

It's been kind of a disastrous day, with the little angel going on a rampage of destruction around the apartment. Picking up the contents of my purse, the toy box, and the DVD drawer off the floor, I was feeling tired, useless, and lonely.

Your sweet comments have lifted my spirits and given me fresh encouragement. What I'm doing here DOES have meaning, even if it's cleaning smashed banana out of the rug. Knowing I have sisters who are with me is so very comforting.

Knowing that my words have somehow spoken to you where you are is the icing.

I love you all. You have blessed me today.

Kim Godawa said...

This post was possibly the most moving of all thus far. The bookends metaphor and picture of God's voice to you - just amazing. Your raw courage and faith in the midst of daily challenges lifts my tired heart.

Thank you for taking the time to encourage through your words.

In Christ,
Kim

Peggy Dabbs said...

I am always blessed from reading your thoughts! You are beautiful
inside and out!