A Suffering That Leads to Rest

May 11, 2021

We went to a church in my old hood Sunday. It was in the backyard of the pastor’s house, set with a mish-mash of folding chairs and patio tables, including one with coffee, kid drinks, and other treats. I’m guessing there were around 20 or so people there, another dozen or two online via Zoom, and a kid’s group doing its thing on another side of the house.

Why am I telling you this? At this point, I have no idea. Things usually become clear at around the 600-word mark. We will see.

I grew up in the south area of the city and, given my unsupervised freedom, I regularly (and without an inkling of fear that can only be born of wisdom), walked into or came close to taunting my own ruin via treacherous situations involving criminal types and other hoodlums who were usually up to no good thing. I did not make it out of there unscathed.

Anyway, I’ve known for years that I owe my childhood some sort of redemptive effort. You know … pay it forward, try to make things better for those coming up in similar circumstances. That kind of thing. Because, you know … there’s hope. Really.

I’ve not been feeling well for several months and finally went to the doctor. I’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune system disease. I see a specialist on Tuesday, but my primary doc thinks it’s probably Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I asked her, “What about Lupus?” She said, “That’s on the menu too.”

I call her “Doctor Ding Dong.” She’s probably doing the best she can, but I’ve had better docs (I will spare you the litany of disconnects, sloppy communications, and outright mistakes). I didn’t choose her. The receptionist chose her for me after my former most-awesome-doctor-ever left the practice.

My mom had RA. It was a really long and ugly journey with a disease that, at about the 20-year mark, tried to take her out with severe interstitial lung disease (one of many side effects of her meds). She was taken to the hospital and put on a ventilator to help her breathe. When I got there, the nurse asked if I’d like her to awaken my mother, but she could not, because my mother had suffered a brain stem stroke while sedated. They wanted to do an MRI which required a transfer to another hospital, a hospital where the neurologist there diagnosed her as being “locked in,” and told me that the best we could do was give her morphine and say goodbye.

Fortunately, I had spent quite a bit of time with the attending physician and the nurses at the first hospital, and I knew way more than this jerk-face thought I did. I had reviewed the brain scan with the ICU’s attending physician and we thought it highly possible that her brain could recover, the inflammation could subside, and she could regain function (I’m a big-time “possibilities” person). They also told me they had witnessed dozens of comatose patients awaken when the ventilator was replaced with a tracheostomy. I latched onto that as the next big step to take.

At the new hospital, a tracheostomy procedure was scheduled, but then suddenly canceled. No warning, no consultation … nothing. It was that pesky neurologist again. Believe me, our subsequent phone conversation was anything but pleasant. The fight ensued, and the tracheostomy was put back on the schedule.

The morning after the procedure, my stepdad and I stopped to eat a light breakfast at one of the round picnic tables in the outdoor area of the hospital cafeteria before going up to see her. We were talking about what should be done for my mom’s final goodbye. He was devastated, to say the least, but as a former law enforcement officer, the average person wouldn’t have noticed. He was a tough guy. Even so, I knew it. It was in his eyes.

At one point, he turned to me and said, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have had an affair.”

He had never mentioned it before, and he has never mentioned it since. I appreciated his words. And I’ll never forget the moment.

It had ripped our families apart. The affair, that is.  So many wounds, so much anger, so many lies, and no grace or forgiveness. The stain remains and it has been hard to live with. Yet, he was the only one who ever acknowledged its impact.

Finishing our coffee, we got up from the table and went upstairs to her room.

She was awake.

It was the beginning of a long and horrendous journey that took another 18 months, but she fought hard, and regained over 70% of her function. We had five more years with her (and she was actually nice to me!) before losing her to a freakish accident that landed her in the hospital again … in a coma. She had fallen and hit her head … hard. The ER physician characterized the injury as blunt force trauma with severe bleeding on the brain. He looked stern and kind of suspicious, but as we talked and I told him that she had been falling down a lot lately, his face softened. And then he told me that the scan had detected a large mass in her brain near the center that controls balance. He suspected brain cancer. And there was nothing they could do.

She left us that night.

I’m not expecting this for me. Really, I’m not. The drugs and treatments are much better now than they were in the ’80s and ’90s. But it makes me pause and note that my “strong and healthy with extraordinary stamina” time is over. And all of the things in life I’ve always known are there waiting for me to do … still there waiting for me to do them.

That’s why I went to the old hood today. To find out what’s there to be done … what’s been waiting for me to do it.

This will sound weird, but I’m both excited and relieved.

Finally, I can unburden myself from chasing something I don’t even recognize. Maybe it’s having to be the strong one, the courageous one, the smart one in the room, and the one who gets things done. What has that gotten me anyway? Just more hurdles to clear … and to what end?

Seriously, all I can do now is go the Father and trust that His strength is sufficient, that I don’t need to prove myself to Him, and that through suffering, if that’s what it’s going to take, I can finally surrender to His hold on me. No more taking His assignments and running off to do things in my own strength. No more exhausting myself with what amounts to showing off, and then realizing I did it for purely selfish reasons.

Yes. Maybe I will finally rest.

In Him.

Wouldn’t it be funny if none of the tests were mine, that there was some sort of mix-up, and I’m actually in perfect health and will likely live to be 100? Would that change anything?

I hope not. I think not.

This might have created a no-turning-back kind of thing, like I suddenly know too much.

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