I'm excited about the idea of checking in once a month with others on this OneWord365 journey of trust, through blogger Amy Young's Trusting Tuesdays link up at her site The Messy Middle. I have a lot going on these days, but I think I can handle this level of commitment and it's always helpful to me to have accountability structures to make this writing thing work.
That being said, I've been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now, and I originally had other plans for it. But my journey into Trust has gone differently than I expected it would. These first few weeks have been weeks of dismantling the old mindset of mistrust and identifying why I ended up here. I discovered as I discussed things with my husband Clint that it wasn't just me, he felt the same way. Mistrust had been a cloud over both of us for a while.
Clint went for a long walk last Friday, pushing our daughter L in her stroller, and as he walked the why began to unfold for him. When he told me about it, two words really stuck out to me: chronic pain.
Our journey in chronic pain began six years ago, the year that we got married. And to be honest, it hasn't gone away since then. Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than 6 months. I think it's fair to say that most people in their late 20's/early 30's don't experience chronic pain yet, it's something we associate with later in life, but so far it has characterized our life together.
It started when Clint came down with shingles about 7 months after our wedding. The nerve pain that accompanies shingles is probably one of the most pure types of pain that can wrack our bodies. For Clint it struck a nerve in his left shoulder and arm, and laid him out, still and silent as a stone on our couch for at least a month in constant pain. Even after he was well enough to return to work, the pain lingered dully for about a year, and he still has occasional throbs of pain in the nerve.
What I discovered early on that first month living with Clint's pain is how isolating pain can be when it cannot be relieved. I felt like it pulled a thick veil between us. In the fog of his pain, Clint couldn't express anything that could help--he retreated into himself to nurse the wound as a survival instinct. Reaching him there was nearly impossible.
I was no stranger to pain myself. During the three years I was a teacher in New York City, I used every single one of the generous ten sick/personal days they handed out per year. I spent most of them lying on my bed, blinds pulled against the light, trying to sleep off a migraine headache. And that doesn't count the days I taught with a headache that wasn't "bad enough" to warrant staying home. Once or twice a month a headache would arrive to stay for two or three days. Over the next years when we moved to Vancouver and started studying at Regent College the headaches grew longer--up to five days at a time, stealing the joy from nearly 20% of my life.
I don't want to exaggerate this experience of pain, it was definitely intermittent and I know people have lived with worse, but that doesn't disqualify it from being chronic. The cumulative effect of living with migraine over the past 13 years has been the persistent feeling that I can never catch up or work to my full potential. There is always a sense of the impending doom, the pain will return and I will retreat into my pain hidey-hole, a black place that consumed days at a time.
There have been other sources of pain too in the midst of migraine--the recovery from Lucy's emergency caesarian birth, a recurring pilonidal abscess during Lucy's first year that made my job of sitting to nurse Lucy much harder and called for two painful surgeries; post-traumatic stress from Lucy's birth; and more.
It felt like so much more than just what is normal, but because the medical conditions weren't deathly serious, it also felt like I was just complaining all the time. Our communities changed substantially at least three times in these painful years. But we were meeting new people in a state too raw to be able to make deep new connections. It's hard to come into relationships when you feel you have nothing much to offer, and fear you'll only be a drain.
So we've just hunkered down and tried to keep going forward as best we can. There have been good moments, but the status quo feels more like a frustrating survival-mode. We quit asking ourselves, "Is this the way things have to be?" because the answer seemed too depressing. We just picked up one heavy foot after another and shuffled forward at half-speed.
I don't write these things to complain, or to make anyone feel bad they didn't help more. This pain wasn't anyone's fault. It was something doctors, family, painkillers, etc couldn't reach. The pain was isolating. It is difficult to come alongside someone in pain in our busy world, especially when the pain isn't obvious or acute, like it wasn't in our case. WE didn't even realize that pain was casting a fog over our lives, or making it hard to trust. We were so used to it, so close to it we couldn't see it clearly.
The pain has been a little easier lately. I haven't had a migraine in several months (knock on wood!). Clint took two weeks off from work at Regent to pray, catch up on stuff around the house and rest after Christmas. It was a good time together. We feel replenished, caught up a bit, reconnected, renewed in our work and ministry.
We are asking ourselves hard questions again: Where was God in our years of pain? Where did we go wrong? How can we rebuild trust? How has this experience given us new strengths and resources?
But even if/when the pain returns, I think I'm hoping that learning to Trust again will help us live a more meaningful life in the midst of it. We'll see, I guess. We'll see.
Have you experienced major pain in your life that put a fog over things? How do/did you cope? How do you keep lines of trust open in the times when you want to retreat to nurse wounds?