But as ‘real’ as we’ve been, (which is a natural propensity, rather than a virtue, in my case) our writings have revealed just the tip of the iceberg. A huge, dark, frozen mass, like the one that sank the Titanic, still lurks beneath the surface of our words.
What has happened to Katherine is simply unspeakable in many ways.
Unreal, unfair, unnatural, unimaginable…inacceptable, inconceivable, incomprehensible.
In addition to Blind Faith, Denial and Avoidance have been faithful friends. So much of this is simply not to be borne that many times I’ve kind of shut down, flaked out, numbed over. I live primarily on the surface, just doing the next thing that needs doing. Most of the time it’s better that way. There is plenty to do.
Still, there are times when the unanswerable questions clamor to be addressed.
Like, HOW COULD A GOOD GOD ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN TO ONE OF HIS BIGGEST FANS???
(As St. Theresa joked with the Almighty, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.”)
A verse haunts me. I remember the first time I read it. I thought, “Well, thanks, but no thanks. Better pick someone else for that job. Don’t think I’ll be cashing in that particular favor anytime soon.”
The verse was, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Phil.1:29)
(To grant: 1 a: to consent to carry out for a person: allow fulfillment of; b: to permit as a right, privilege, or favor 2: to bestow)
Lord, please don’t grant me this favor. Don’t even think about bestowing this honor upon me. I give up all my rights for this privilege. Give it to someone more worthy. I’ll wash their feet in heaven….or anything else that needs washing. I’ll sit at the back of the bus, stand at the end of the line, gladly accept the smallest, dingiest halo. I’m just not far enough along for this honor. Why don’t you let me grow a little more? Get a little more spiritually mature? (By the time I’m mature enough, I’ll be dead…transported straight to Bliss.) Let this particular cup just pass me right on by....
Suffering’s not my bag, baby, as Austin Powers might say.
Catching Katherine in a rare weak moment was the impetus for my most recent metaphysical query. Following the trans-facial nerve graft, she and Jay stayed at UCLA’s Tiverton House for recuperation until her initial checkup and stitch removal. (The Tiverton House had been our first lodging in the aftermath of Katherine’s AVM rupture, so it returned us emotionally to that time even more vividly than did the surgery alone.) Grace and I kept the baby at our apartment just down the street. On the second day, we strolled him up for a visit with Mom and Dad, but he was too wild to be around the patient. I took him upstairs to the indoor playground to run some energy out. When James and I returned to the room a little later, I could hear sobbing from out in the hallway. “I don’t know how much more I can endure,” Katherine was crying as we entered the room. I handed the baby off to Jay and sat down on the bed with Katherine and her sister. “Look at me…Any one thing would be bad enough, but to have all of this...”she gestured from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. I hugged her gingerly, trying not to touch anything painful. She looked like Poor Pitiful Pearl: Frankenstein stitches down each side of her neck and the length of her left leg....lips swollen up like Octomom’s...matted, unwashable hair. Her whole body throbbing with pain, Katherine seemed terribly fragile...almost breakable. The shaking of her shoulders just made things worse. By this point, Grace was crying, too. But when I started in, Katherine instantly reverted back to Family Cheerleader: “But I’m okay. I really am.” I think she may even have patted my arm.
Adding insult to injury, James acted like a brat...I mean a baby...as we were leaving. When I asked him to blow Mommy a kiss bye-bye, he yelled “NO!” Then, to rub it in, he looked at her and gave me a hug and a kiss instead.
I was pretty mad at God for the rest of the day. Well, maybe not mad...just really hurt.
There sure is a whole lot of hurt down here.
But hasn’t my child suffered enough?
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Phil.1:29)
I struggle with this troubling verse. It indicates that some (certainly not all) suffering is a privilege...an honor...a boon. The inference: Katherine has been chosen for a special mission.
He must really, really trust her.
It is human instinct not only to avoid suffering at all costs, but to actively pursue our own comfort. Currently, I have a front-row seat in the lecture hall for lessons to be learned from the lives and mouths of babes. I have been reminded of our most essential, in-born human nature: I do not want to be hungry, thirsty, wet, dirty, hurt, bored or ignored. I WANT food! Drink! A dry diaper! Comfort! Stimulation! Attention! Love! And stuff. More Stuff! MY Stuff!!!!” (Ditto all that for me.)
I go to my instruction manual searching for answers. I’m trying to figure this out here....wrap my mind around a concept so completely contrary to our human nature. I dig this up in Acts:.“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41)
Why??? Were they sick masochists? Like the frat pledge in Animal House who begs for another spanking, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” Could this be the origin of the Medieval practice of self-flagellation? I am reminded of Dame Julian of Norwich, who prayed that God would allow her to experience corporally the physical agonies of Christ. She almost died. And the beautiful Madame Guyon, who prayed that God would take away her beauty so that men (other than her mean husband) wouldn’t be tempted to hit on her. She got disfiguring smallpox that left her marred for life.
What is the secret? Why are there those who not only don’t shrink away from suffering, but embrace it, invite it? Where is the joy in suffering?
Recently, I reread some accounts of the persecuted church. Stories of the underground churches that operated under Communism particularly intrigue me. Betrayed, beaten, imprisoned, and matyred for their faith, the Eastern Bloc Christians nevertheless emanated a supernatural joy that greatly perplexed their Western brothers and sisters. It almost seemed that the worse things got, the greater the ineffable joy abounded. I think of the 1st and 2nd Century martyrs who went to the lions singing hymns and praising God. The earliest disciples were so filled with joy that on at least one occasion they were accused of being drunk at 10 in the morning. Persecution, torture, imprisonment, and death were just around the bend. What were they thinking?
There must be some hidden benefits. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,“...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom 5:3-4) Peter sheds some more light on the source of the joy: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (I Peter 4:12-13)
I have never fully understood this “participation” concept. In Phil. 3:10, Paul declares, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Is that a key? We become more like him through our suffering? Isn’t that the goal of sanctification? Can we only truly come to know him and become like him by sharing in his human experience in its totality? I do know that if I want to become more like him, parts of me will have to die. The parts that are selfish, self-serving, self-preserving, self-protecting, self-aggrandizing…even those parts that are merely self-comforting. The willing acceptance of suffering is a type of death: death to my own wishes and desires....not my will, but Yours.
There was a 2-year period during which I experienced severe, unrelenting, chronic pain. The pain was so violent at times that it was all I could do to survive the day. Some days I didn’t want to. During that time, I ran across this:“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in the body is done with sin.” (I Peter 4:1) Intense suffering has the ability to burn the self out of you. It can cause you to look beneath the surface, behind the veil, beyond yourself. I have to confess that I am not yet “done with sin,” but, then, I am a particularly tough case. I did, however, have some of the most beautifully intense spiritual encounters of my life during that nightmare of physical suffering. There were “treasures in the dark.”
"I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name." (Isaiah 45:3)
My experience showed me that, through suffering, we can come to know God in the secret recesses of our hearts in a much deeper, more profound way than is possible when we’re content to exist on the anesthesized surface of life. And the light that we bring with us from these encounters in the darkest places may illuminate those around us. We bring the treasure out with us, and willingly share it.
I am reminding myself of this now.
But that was me; this time it’s my child.
Still, as hard as it is to witness the pain, I have to admit that the Katherine Light has never shone more brightly than now.
I keep trying to reason away the emotions. Get some peace. Understand. Concluding my research on suffering’s silver linings, I find these verses:
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:5)
But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. (Job 36:15)
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.(Ps. 119:50)
He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."(Mark 5:34)
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”(Rom. 8:17)
Unearthly comfort…deliverance….preservation…peace….freedom. The voice of God himself speaking promises of abundant life. Glory.
Good Lord, Glory!!!
(Glory: praise, honor, or distinction…distinguished quality or brilliant asset…great beauty…SPLENDOR… the bliss of heaven…a height of prosperity or achievement…a state of great gratification or exaltation…)
I'm gonna let it rest now. Too much thinking can wear you out.
Today was an exquisite California day. Actually, you could call it a glorious day. The kind of day that helps you understand why California real estate is still so insanely high: warm sun, dry air, brilliant light, cool flirty breeze.
I went to therapy with Katherine in the morning, then Grace strolled the baby over at lunchtime for a changing of the guard. On the way back to the house, James and I stopped by the playground of the children’s wing. As James entertained himself by moving dirt from one place to another, I wandered around the garden space having a little interior monologue, still not feeling a conclusion to my questioning. Finally, I made a direct address to Heaven: “Okay, would you just help me really understand the suffering thing now?” I felt an invitation to be still. I sat on the cool grass in the shade of a big, beautiful tree. I tried to reason things out in my head again, but images of the tragically broken people I’d just witnessed in therapy kept coming to mind. So much seemingly senseless suffering....lives destroyed by accident, violence, or, most senseless of all, drunk drivers. Leaning against the comfortable old tree, I looked up at its’ delicate emerald leaves dancing in patterns above my head. Translucent with sunlight, they made a kaleidoscope of every kind of green. My favorite color. The color of life.
Words drifted down:
“The gifts are much greater than the grief.”
Somehow, that was enough.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."* (1 Peter 5:10)
(*The by-word on all of Katherine’s emails.)