I’ve been sick.
I haven’t really known how to write this post but I just have to do it to get it out.
I’ve been sick since July (random debilitating attacks) and the doctors don’t know what is wrong with me.
I’ve had numerous blood tests, ultrasounds on my gall bladder (twice) and on my liver, an MRI, and an upper GI. They thought at different points that I might have Celiac Disease, Chrone’s Disease or a rare artery disease called SMA Syndrome. The tests have all come back negative which has now sent us back to square one.
That’s not really want I want to talk about though. (I know…BOOM goes the dynamite and then I change the subject. In the words of one of my favorite movies “Legally Blond,” I have a point..I promise!) I give you my medical update for context more than anything because really at this point, “I don’t know,” is my only real answer to what is going on medically.
What I want to talk about is that I am the kind of person that doesn’t really like to share the things that are closest to my heart and I don’t like to share when I am going through something difficult. I’ve often lived my life and believed that I can do all things myself and if I can’t…well I should suck it up and try harder. I’m Jesus(ing) so hard here. (Read Matthew 11:28 and Philippians 4:13 to get the sarcastic content of that statement.)
I didn’t tell very many people when I first got sick but pretty soon it became debilitating enough that I had to begin asking people for help. This physical process soon turned into a spiritual process for me as I realized God had something to teach me about the value of community in the midst of suffering.
Back in October my friend Nick shared (with our church) a vision that a friend of his recently shared at a conference Nick attended.
What I remember (and I hope I do this justice because it really spoke to me) was that in a sense we are like a person who is holding a glass and drop it. The glass breaks and it shatters everywhere. Our first reaction is to immediately clean up the mess as fast as possible and throw it in the garbage. There are things that happen in life that make us feel broken. There are things in life that we are embarrassed about. There are things in life that we want to clean up as fast as possible and throw in the garbage and hopefully move on from.
This is where I was at with my sickness. I felt so broken. I felt like a failure. I felt embarrassed because I needed help to take care of my two girls and that other things that were of such great value to me (like being the wife my husband deserves and being the pastor my church deserves) got put on the back burner. I wanted it to just go away (still do) and I wanted to throw it in the trash and move on as fast as possible.
If we are the cup droppers, God is like the stained glass worker. In order for there to be the beauty of stained glass there has to be broken glass. There has to be a process of restoration and creation of something new out of something broken. So God does not despair. Rather, if we allow, he picks up those pieces of glass and begins to make something new.
This vision cut right to my heart because I am a total “throw the glass in the garbage” kind of gal…but the thing is, I don’t want to stay there. I don’t want garbage bags of broken glass sitting in the corners of my heart and soul. I want stained glass windows and in order to do that I had to begin a new process with God.
That process is what took me to the lesson I felt like I should share today: the value of community in the midst of suffering.
Here’s what I know about God. Sometimes he’s a little slow. (Yup, I just called God slow. If I get hit with a lighting bolt you read it here first!) If it were up to me, and God and I were cleaning up the glass together, I would hand him a bin and rapidly fill it as fast as I could and push him out the door while yelling, “Can I pay you through Cash App? Make something pretty!”
It seems though that God has taken up residence in my kitchen. It also seems that he has no hurry to pick up my glass. Rather it seems that he is finding joy (joy?) in the process of picking up each piece, examining it, asking me questions about it before he slllllowwwwly puts it in his bin. I’m even convinced that sometimes he takes them back out from time to time to make sure they are ready to go in the bin.
What do I mean?
I’d say it like this. My sickness is what caused me to drop my glass. (My glass I guess being an even balance and the happy kilter of my life.) Once dropped each piece exposed a little something about me. One piece could be named fear, one regret, one health, one trust, one hope and on and on and on.
So as God and I comb through my shattered glass we have a lot of stuff we have to talk about. Do I trust God with my health? (The answer has been sometimes to no.) Is Every Day Church mine to make successful? (My answer was yes, God’s was no.) Do I take my fear to God (not really because sometimes I’m afraid to be vulnerable with Him.) So as you can see it’s a slow process.
Okay maybe I’m the slow one…not God.
Being that it’s slow and being that I didn’t throw all of my glass away and pretend like I’m fine (when I’m not) it puts everything on display and I have had a choice: I can invite people in or I can do it alone. I’ve chosen to invite people in. I’ve chosen to share about what has been going on, to talk to people, to ask people to pray when I am having hard days, and for the ever basic please just help me. You know what? In the midst of suffering I have found joy in community.
It’s like when you were a kid and your parent made you do a chore that was the worst (but you know good for you) and you invited a friend over and immediately doing that chore was 10x better. That’s what it’s like when we invite others into our dropped glass/stained glass experiences. As God is doing the work and as God is bringing up new stuff that’s the worst (but you know good for you to work through) it’s always way more fun with a friend. Friends get it. They can complain with you, they can help you understand your parent’s point, they can sympathize with you, they can tell you when you are being unreasonable, they can bring you presents, they can hold you, they can give you strength when you think you just might not make it, and they see you at your very worst and can offer you Jesus’ unwavering love for you in the flesh. That is the value and beauty of community.
I’ve seen a post floating around on Facebook, one that comes up pretty often each year which is a reminder to people that during this time of year to be mindful of others because, for some, they are suffering this holiday.
I agree with that sentiment because I do want to be a person of empathy, but more than that I would issue a challenge to those who are suffering during this season:
Don’t throw your glass away and (do) invite others into your kitchens. Let God begin the process of making something new. Let people see the suffering and walk with you in your journey towards God. Not only will there be more joy in the process (or at least a better chance of survival, I’m convinced) there will be a group standing there to throw a party with you once that stained glass window goes up. Plus they might bring snacks and snacks always make everything better.