The Thorn. Keep Bleeding. Turn it into Love
The cursor blinks. I edit every thought before it can escape through my fingers. I’m back to a place of intense and unrelenting physical pain that clouds how I see myself, my family, my community and my faith. I’m at a point where talking about my suffering in any forum, even my close personal relationships, seems self indulgent. This thorn is not going to be removed. Be quiet. Try and make your life about something else. Anything else.
Today I’m in bed with deep heat along my thoracic spine. I spent the first hours of my day making phone calls to follow up on recent adrenal testing I had at the hospital and pre-registering for one of several kinds of MRIs I need before my appointment next Thursday with my neurosurgeon in Maryland. I wrote several cards to sister warriors recovering from their own surgeries. I was back and forth to the bathroom. I had a serious mast cell attack over the weekend leaving me more ill than usual. I cannot seem to recover. I will get dressed soon and drive to the girl’s school to deliver snacks for the golf team’s away match and pick up Danica. This will take any spoons I have left.
Yesterday I made a rash decision to take my Danica’s Rolo to boarding for a few days and nights. I spent Sunday in frantic pain, and I began to count the number of times I was bending to help put him on the leash or take it off or put him in his crate and get him out or grab him when he was chewing something he shouldn’t or was playfully chasing my little Twixie. I was doing more than before because Dan was working overtime again and Danica was still recovering from her fall last week. Her spine was hurting too. I woke with desperation. I had to know if being still could improve the suffering of neck spasms and the scary symptoms of dystonia in my limbs, neuropathy and loss of feeling in my hands and feet. Most of all I needed a break. The guilt overwhelmed me.
“What good is guilt? We ask. We like the sound of the question. It puts a crude finger on a heartbeat in us that won’t stop racing, a pulse broken in sympathy. It makes us talk. It makes us talk about ourselves. It makes us confess. We want to purge something even confession won’t justify…”–James Agee
Someone wise once told me guilt is not an emotion. You either are or you aren’t. It is not my fault I am so broken and ill. But I did promise my daughter a dog if she would hang on those long days and nights following her brain and spine surgery. I let her draw pictures and dream of names and study breeds while she wore her brace and sat still. I took the money from my parents, and we drove her to meet this little dog who we all now love but wonder if we can keep. I am guilty of saying “yes” to something I should have known may be the literal straw that would once again break my back. And now I face the forever guilt of perhaps needing to give him away to another family better suited for his care. It is one more thing my children will have sacrificed or lost because of my disability. This is an overriding theme in their narrative. I’m missing for large chunks of time, either away for surgery, in bed recovering, skipping school functions, concerts and awards programs to avoid mast cell attacks, absent from volunteering in their classroom or for the PTF and building relationships with other families because I cannot commit to anything. I’m not guilty, but I’m confessing my heart breaks every single time my hard robs something from their good.
I’ve long loved the artwork and words of Ruth Chou Simons of Gracelaced. I was gifted a beautiful print that hangs framed in our bathroom. My 2017 calendar is from her stunning collection of desert watercolors, and I frequently mail her lovely notecards. Her beautiful book by the same name was delivered last week. Each page is a new gift. I am working through it slowly. I’ve stayed in the third chapter titled “Sufficient” for almost a week now. I’ve sat with the image of my thorn in the flesh, the one God has not chosen to remove. Ruth writes:
“We miss the lesson when we pick at the thorn…nurse it…bemoan it…curse it. The enemy would have us so blinded by the pain of the thorn that we can’t see the beauty of the rose garden. I’ve been there so many times…so consumed by the discomfort that won’t go away that I can’t experience what fragrance of grace lies just ahead. Look past the thorn to how Christ is enough in the midst of it. His Grace is sufficient for the thorn He chooses not to remove.
Friend, would we praise Him for His sustaining strength in our lives if it were not for reaching the end of our strength?
Would we consider Him enough if we did not find ourselves lacking?
Would we know humility if not for the discomfort of obstacles and the pain of intrusions?
Would we, as did Paul, rejoice to boast in weakness if not shown the truth of our Father’s seemingly backward paradigm of greatness–humility?
Today’s thorn stands guard over tomorrow’s rose. Don’t be surprised when our heavenly Father chooses to allow the wounding of our pride this day. He does so lovingly, sovereignly, and without mistake-in our unremoved pain-the rose we long to behold, just beyond the thorn.”
I’m weak. I’m poor. I’m humbled.
I’ve been meditating on I Peter 5:10:
“And after you have suffered a little while the God of all Grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
Restore. Confirm. Strengthen. Establish.
The rose in the bud closed so tightly. I prick my heart on the thorn. It’s bleeding, but there is love in the blood.
Our Hope remains.
(Thank you for continuing to pray for our family. We are hard pressed on every side.
We need great wisdom to know what to do about Rolo. I’ve been in contact with a trainer who could work to make him similar to a therapy dog for Danica and myself. This would be a two week boarding situation away from our home and then some learning on our end when he returns. This is very costly and not an option right now, but it is the desire of our hearts. Whatever we decide please pray for Danica most of all.
Please pray for my trip to D.C. next week. The flying, brutal scans and appointment and the courage to face whatever we see in those images never gets easier. My dear friend, Kristin, who many of you have been praying for as she fought Lymphoma, is flying from Denver. She will drive me, and we will have sweet time together as friends. I also plan to meet the founder of Healing Hearts, the respite organization hosting Option EDS (the retreat) with me. There are some very specific financial needs associated with this appointment. Please pray I will be able to negotiate payment. We have maintained access to care with always enough. I am weary of the fight. I become more panicked when collections interfere with actual needed appointments.
Please pray for Dan and I. We feel like we are drifting and out of sheer exhaustion and pain it is difficult to make the space and time to reconnect. Our family is only as strong as our marriage.
Please praise God with us for protection over Danica during a big fall last week. She is okay. Please praise Him for provision for the window that needs replaced in Laney’s room. God showed up in the most amazing way to meet the specific request. It’s such a relief to know it will be installed before winter.
He is still good. Thank you for being the one’s carrying our mat to Him over and over. We suffer gratitude.)
Diane McElwainSeptember 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm (6 years ago)
My heart cries for you each time I read your letters, knowing that taking the time to do this must be exhausting. I pray for your family often. May God keep you close.
Susan BaroneSeptember 16, 2017 at 1:37 am (6 years ago)
I want this book now, too. I’ve been turning over and over this idea of the thorn and the rose. I too have many thorns I wait to have removed. I hadn’t considered the thorn is guarding something. I probably would not dig into God’s Word and stay the course without the thorn if I’m honest. When things were different and I was in a place with no pain, I don’t think I matured much in my faith as I have through the valleys I’ve walked through. Thank you for sharing the book and your insights once again. I’ve never met you in person but I think of you as my mentor in faith and a fellow valley walker.