*“Our whole business, then, brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”–St Augustine
I wrote the following post December 2, 2011, having just returned home from my first neurosurgery. I’m now snuggled under the same quilt in my own light filled home recovering from my seventh neurosurgery. I am so filled with suffering I can scarcely breathe. It is not the physical hurt. I’m convinced I could win a pain endurance trophy in a suffering Olympics. I am only slightly bothered by intense post surgical pain, because I can mentally understand it. Compared to the headaches before this latest fusion and the insane burning of my hands and feet, both of which resolved instantly with the pressure removed from my spinal cord, I know this is the good kind of ache. This is skin and flesh binding to one another over additional scaffolding in my delicate spine. The suffering I face now is in my mind and my heart.
I believe I see clearer than ever, but those who have necessarily walked this Gauntlet with me seem to have cloudier vision and lost more perspective each time we’ve done this. Maybe they are just tired. My oldest daughter, Delaney, came to the foot of my bed yesterday. We were talking about upcoming school shopping and in the honesty we’ve always shared she said, “This is just hard. You are grumpy, and I know it is because you are hurting, but every summer is like this.” I am wrecked. The truth is I have one of those “on this day” apps for Facebook, and I realize how many years we have been in continuous crisis, leading up towards it or recovering from it. Dan and I had a fight last night. We don’t fight. Ever. Truly. I sometimes want to give him an out. He has to want that. All I wanted was a hug. He said I was too “brittle.” I know he wonders if he will ever have his wife back. We both know he is not cut from the cloth that cares for someone sick long term and certainly not disabled. He cannot advocate. He can barely sit in a hospital room. I don’t think his love for me is tied to this. I think it’s just too much to ask of him. I know that’s a real thing. You’re a fool if you think it’s not. My dad reminded me recently one of the most painful things I know to be true. “Most men would have left.” It is only my little Danica whose empathy seems to know no bounds. Although she cannot remember fully her own surgeries or even the months of being held in a brace which kept others from real touch she finds me and clings to me in the awkward way you must when your mommy is wearing an Aspen collar all day and night.
I see like the blind man who Jesus took outside the city and spit on earth and covered his eyes with clay and healed him. When I read this oh so old post I almost laugh at the beginning of that miracle in my life. Surely it was not only meant for me. The suffering I feel today comes from my vision being almost crystal clear and less myopic every day, and the paralyzing fear those close to me are seeing less and less. As I wade through my usual post surgery self pity I push to begin going back to work. I am finishing my book. I edit based on these new stories I’ve gathered and the added perspective they bring. I realize more than ever this book is for those of us who drag our chairs around in a circle each week and say, “Hello, My name is Monica, I have,” and we state the laundry list of conditions that are not us but that make up our bodies and have become the threads that hold together our lives. We share the things even those who love us most and try the hardest can only make out through a mist.
Nora Gallagher was presenting at a writing conference in Washington DC the weekend our family left for the beach. I desperately wanted to attend. I took her book Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic to read on our trip. I suggest anyone beginning or walking through a journey in the world of illness and medicine and sorting out their faith in the darkness and sometimes blinding light the long walk brings to read this honest and beautiful narrative. In her last chapter she writes:
Following Jesus was meant to be an ongoing movement, not a creed, not a wall of set in stone words. A place where practices, like prayer, like meditation, were taught, where stories and memories, largely about vulnerability and suffering were collected and shared. The body’s pain and suffering were meant to be a part of this whole: I don’t think Jesus had in mind a place where you had to tolerate the empty predictability of a service and stand upright at the coffee hour if you had been diagnosed with lymphoma or sarcoidosis or lung cancer. He was, at the heart of his ministry, a healer.
And the stories of his followers were meant to be taken seriously to become part of the ongoing larger Story. A river of stories, joining the sea. The living stories of a faith’s followers are what keep it alive.
I have more regard for how each of us finds a way, the man in scrubs playing the Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, the girl in the wheelchair, the boy with no hair running in the wind, each of us feeling our way in the dark. “The infinite value of one human being,” a friend said, “isn’t that what it’s all about?”
This land of illness, behind the wall, is much larger than I thought, and through its lens, the world we all live in, what we call the natural world, becomes more precious. I said I would give quite a lot to have my own body back, but yesterday I saw the evening light falling on the old oak trees in our park, their bark like the skin of elephants. This world is so beautiful, and not only can I still see it, I no longer pass through it quite the same way I did before. I, at least sometimes, am in it, in its beauty, in its enchantment, in its divine life…”
I want healing in so many ways, but more than any physical restoration I want the kind of heart healing that causes me to see Him clearly. This is my work. This is my calling. This gives me purpose in my suffering this afternoon.
Do You See?
By Monica Kaye Snyder
Written December 2, 2011
I’m sitting here in bed propped on many pillows and covered with my favorite “story” quilt from home. I’m looking at the sun glistening off the peaceful lake right outside the floor to ceiling doors and windows to the left of where I rest. I watch the dancing rays on the simple colors and patterns of the soft rug covering the hardwood floor. Classic and simple furnishings comfort me and are a present wrapped in the way beautiful space has always been a gift to me. There are pictures of people I do not know smiling at me. They have a summer life here, and because they are part of this big household of faith they opened their home to me to heal. I have wanted this. I have prayed for this. I have desperately needed this time and place more than I ever could have imagined. I see.
If you have been reading this blog from the beginning you know my theology has often brought me to ask many questions to a God I believed in and trusted but still held at bay when it came to His providence and how it worked in tandem with my sin. I especially questioned Him when it came to the suffering of Danica and my family. He recently brought me to this passage from John 9:1-3.
“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'”
Four years ago Danica was born through months of intense physical suffering and great loss on many levels. The verse I would cling to was from Job 42:5, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You.”
I have literally a hundred amazing stories to tell about my trip to Maryland and surgery and healing. They all speak directly of a God who is always in the details and thrives in showing His Grace through people. The morning of my surgery my sweet sister-in-law Amy took me to the hospital to get registered and get my PICC line placed. I did not feel so much nervousness as I did really dreading the process that leads up to actually being wheeled into the room and getting to the real business of surgery. If you’ve been through many surgeries you know that everyone comes in and meets you and chats about certain history and reminds you of the risks and complications that could arise and then has you sign a bunch of forms. There were two people during this process who blew me away. First I had to go over and register and show my identification and insurance card, etc. When anyone finds out you are a patient of Dr. Henderson it seems there is a special kind of reverence and care surrounding all the dealings moving forward. This sweet woman saw a countenance on my face that she instantly recognized as being a “believer.” She said, “I am already praising God with you for what will happen in that operating room today and during your healing.” I see.
When Dr. Henderson came in to speak with us he had his classic blue blazer on and held my hand tightly as he prayed over Dan and I. He asked for God’s guidance of each movement of his hands and each decision he would make during the surgery and then he asked specifically for my healing so I would further be able to glorify God by doing His will in His kingdom.
Stop. Read it over again. This man who would cut open my head and neck and painstakingly move around in my brain stem and spinal cord had just prayed the desire of my heart. All I have longed for is to be doing God’s will and giving Him glory. I know these heavy burdens are not given lightly. With them come great responsibility to bear them into something beautiful and eternal. This is why Dr. Henderson does this work. I cannot be healed and go back into a life anything like what it once was. I’ve SEEN and have to tell about it.
When I came out of surgery and began to get my bearings in the recovery room all I could say over and over was, “I CAN SEE.” The black floaters I had suffered from for years, particularly in my right eye, but most severely the last months as the pressure in my head had worsened were completely gone. As I type this now I have no obstruction of my vision at all. Although I am in considerable pain from the rib harvesting and my large head and neck incision I do not have the paralyzing vice grip in the back of my head. I do have quite a bit of nerve “damage” from the screws put in my upper skull to hold it in place during surgery. I have felt like my head is numb. I know many of these post surgery pains will take patient healing and rest to make it a true success.
I am praying that all the faith being made sight will unfold in your life and mine so the power of God can and will be seen in us.
About Monica Kaye:
Monica Kaye Snyder is a voracious reader. She is a blogger, a writer and maybe even an author. She continues a long journey of chronic illness and daily physical suffering. Some of her diagnoses include Chiari malformation, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Tethered Spinal Cord, Craniocervical Instability, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Intracranial Hypertension, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and most recently PANS/PANDAS. She’s seen real miracles happen and holds on to Christ’s Hope as an anchor for her soul while living in great pain. She is wife to Dan and mother to Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean. She knows for sure if she does nothing else well in her life, this will matter and be enough.
SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.