Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Aches, pains, a hard ending, and joy

I. Lately, I have been more aware of my RA.  Other people are more aware of it, too, as I limp into church on Sunday morning, inflamed ankle causing me to wince with each step.  In the mornings, I move my hands slowly, opening and closing them under warm flowing water.  I know now, because I feel it, too, why my grandmother loved to wash dishes.  The warm water soothes and the movements of handling and scrubbing dishes keeps achy joints mobile.  Some days I hold tightly to the handrail and take each descending step very slowly.  With the progression of the day and movement, my joints feel less stiff and the pain fades, never gone completely, but quiet.

II. Last Saturday, Joel's soccer career ended on a hard note.  I am not one to complain about referees.  Bad calls happen.  It's part of every game, every sport.  Referees are human and not perfect, but everyone watching the game that morning agreed that this call was wrong, very wrong.  Even unattached bystanders who had no interest in the outcome of the game said it was wrong.  So, when a second yellow card given to my boy, a player who rarely gets carded ever, resulted in a mandatory red and ejection from the game, I stared, stunned, disbelieving.  And when my sweet boy was summarily carted away from the field to the holding area to wait out the rest of the game away from the field, according to tournament rules, my heart broke for him.  Playing a man down for the rest of the game, his team lost.  It was not the way anybody wanted it to end.

These troubles of ours are small things and we do well to remember that.  Truly, they pale in comparison to the troubles of so many that we know and love and so many, many more we only see on the nightly news.  Refugees who are parted from home and family, plopped down into bare apartments in strange cities.  Families whose homes have been obliterated in tornadoes, mothers whose children lie buried under the rubble of their school.   Marathon bombing victims with feet and legs blown off, now learning how to live with prosthetic limbs.  Garment workers in poor countries.  Cancer victims.  The homeless mentally ill.

Our troubles may not stay small.  I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that how I respond to small troubles now is training me for facing larger ones.  Do I feel defeated and despondent about my sore joints?  Am I angry and bitter about that referee?  If so, then when something larger comes my way, I will not be prepared, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  The habitual ways I respond to difficulties now ready me for larger, devastating events, should they come.

So, what habits am I cultivating now ...

If it's my own trouble, acknowledge it.  Don't ignore or deny it.  Cry if I need to.  Share the sorrow or trial with a family member or trusted friend.

If the trouble is one that is not my own, but someone else's, sit with the one who's hurting.  In the moment of the affliction, avoid chipper, look on the bright side, chin-up, this will all work out for good words.  They can come later, but in the moment of grief, such words are often more like sandpaper, scraping the wounds, rough and raw.  Weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn.  Do not minimize the pain.

Press on.  Get up.  Do the next thing.  Keep walking.  Do those phrases sound cliche?   They may be, but they are also antidotes to paralyzing despair.  My painful joints are a metaphor.  If I stay in bed or sit in a chair all day, noting every little pain, my joints will become stiffer and more painful.  When I walk or run or swim or bike, it is never without pain, but mobility is increased and the positive benefits of my exercise enable me to handle the aches more equitably.  Sometimes the pain is reduced or even eliminated.

Give thanks.  As dear Ann reminds me again and again, the habitual giving of thanks to God, "[makes] the canyon of pain into a megaphone to proclaim the ultimate goodness of God" and "That which I refuse to thank Christ for, I refuse to believe that Christ can redeem."  On Saturday, as we drove home from that gut-wrenching soccer match, a friend texted me these words:
 "Adversity is the touchstone of the soul, because it discovers the virtues which it possesses.  One act of thanksgiving when matters go wrong with us is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclinations."
Affirm the sovereign goodness of God and work to keep an eternal perspective.  Pray.  God is with me.  God is for me.  God sees.  God knows.  God is at work.  I do not have to know the answer or the outcome today.  I do not have to worry about the future.  I can rest in the good purposes of God, whatever they may be and know that they are not likely to be fully revealed to me any time soon.  I am not in control.  God is.

Refocus my thoughts along the lines of Philippians 4:9
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Oh, how many ways there are to "think about these things" ... the Bible, of course, but also true literature, beautiful art, poetry, creating,  (for me something from fabric or working in the garden, for others painting, cooking, writing ...), movies that tell excellent, commendable stories (we watched Chariots of Fire on Saturday night after that wreck of a soccer game.)

Work at seeing the gifts of God in small things.  I read this poem and post by Luci Shaw today.  It was fitting for the morning, a double gift, the one she shared of her own experience and what she gave me through her sharing this morning.

"...I glance sideways. A wisp of woman,
clearly a lot older than me (and I’m
pretty old) with sparse, nothing-colored
hair, skin drawn tight over cheekbones,
mouth gathered to a small purse, eyes sparks
of improbable blue. The purse opens in a burst
of gratitude: “Beautiful sun! Such a beautiful day!
It makes me so happy!” She folds me into
her smile, enveloping me with her gift
of hilarity..."
(please do click over and read the whole poem)

This is what I'm working on, friends. These are the habits I am trying to cultivate.  I do not want to be a Pollyanna, nor a blithe and shallow, pop-psychology look on the bright side kind of person.  Though my troubles now are small, I know this is a hard world, a painful, broken, hurting world.  But I also know that joy is possible.  The joy of the Lord, the joy of my salvation.  Joy like a spring bubbling up from deep wells that never run dry.  That's the kind of joy I want.  In RA, in disappointment, in any circumstance that may come.


tonia said...

This is so beautiful, b, because it comes from the truth of your living it. Thank you for doing this hard work. It illuminates the world, images Christ for all of us.

You are in my heart and prayers this morning.

Heidi said...

This is lovely. Such depth and truth. Thank you.

Bonnie said...

I couldn't get the link to Lucy's poem to work? I sent this to my sister too. It strengthened me.
Thank you.