Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Secret Power of Suffering

In the curious ways of God’s providence, this is the second time we’ve encountered two major crises running parallel in the world around us and inside our own home. 

In 2001 my husband had a major cancer surgery just few short weeks after we became parents for the first time which took place just few short weeks before 9/11. The world on the outside and the world on the inside were crumbling and mingling together as we watched the news and leaned into the stories of survivors, first respondents and families who lost their loved ones.  Even though we were not in New York nor did we know personally any of the victims, somehow, but the virtue of our shared vulnerability, by the stabbing pangs of suffering, we connected with the grieving.

We grasped for words. We let our tears roll. We gasped for courage in the face of surreal. We were one with complete strangers by the common thread of frailty of life.

The waves of heartbreak and pain of those days – the sheer volume of lives affected and the depth and breadth of loss – framed our own little journey of pain and fear.

It somehow put our personal journey in the larger context. In some sense it amplified it. We thought we already had our hands full, in fact, more than we could handle and then we were swept by this tidal wave of story after story after story of heart-wrenching accounts of grief and death.

In another sense, their grief somehow diminished our own.

We were not the only people enduring suffering. 

Fast-forward fifteen years to Orlando, Florida. What many consider the Happiest Place on Earth. Our City Beautiful. This time it was my turn to be recovering from the surgery when the news hit of the deadly shooting in the gay night club Pulse.

Forty-nine young lives cut short in the largest mass shooting in the U.S. history, in our own back yard!

As the entire city reeled from the initial shock, we were again side swept by our own personal journey of reckoning with the brevity of life and uncertainty of the future.  And once again as we’ve leaned into the heartbreak, pain and courage of the past two weeks we find the larger story framing our own little journey.

Both augmenting and subduing the trauma. Making our story of pain smaller and bigger. 

There is something incredibly humbling and even noble about being so utterly incapacitated, so powerless, so out of control, so dependent.  We know in the depth of our being, that this is way out of our league. That we are desperately in need for Someone stronger who will walk with us - who can carry us - through the unthinkable, who will help us endure the unendurable.  Someone able to assure our storm-tossed hearts and minds...

You are not alone. I see you... I know you... I love you...,You are not alone... You... are... not... alone...

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you... Isaiah 43:2a

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Map and the Guide

I found the treasure map the same week my doctor called and while I was sitting on the bedroom floor leaning against the frame of the bed, she said,

You have cancer.

S&#t, I thought, then repeated it several times.  The doctor has already hung up and I was still holding the phone in my hand. 

I just found I have cancer and I am all alone here. I couldn’t even cry. 

Immediately after that, I remembered the map. The treasure map and the narrow treasure hunting path that starts with a shipwreck. It certainly was a shipwreck of sort, for sure an end of one journey – the life as I knew it pre-cancer – and the beginning of another.  There was no going back and staying on the wreckage-ridden shore wasn’t really an option.

The narrow path leading away was an obstacle course of one challenge after another.  Jumping over Niagara Falls…. Swimming across lake with the Loch Ness…  Treasure or no treasure at the end of the path, it became abundantly clear that I don’t have what it takes to brave this journey.

I am not strong enough.

I am not courageous enough.

And the map, that was supposed to give me ‘heads up’ and encouragement along the way proved to be a handicap and a hazard.  It was overwhelming.  

Just as life, at times, is beyond words overwhelming.

I can’t follow this path that takes me through the ambivalent landscape of poisonous healing, across the rickety bridges of toothless hope and besides sleeping monsters of despair.  I don’t know if I have it in me to make the next step much less to complete the journey.

In some other world, at some other hour, I would analyze and theorize and sermonize, dissecting words like dead laboratory animals, splicing the meaning from the shreds of some second-hand experience.  But, today I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t do it.

Today, I realized that more than a map with a clearly laid out path before me, what I really needed was a guide.  I needed a reliable, experienced guide who knows the treacherous terrain first-hand. I need a guide whose authenticity, whose most desirable qualifications are verified not by his knowledge, or education or eloquence, but by his scars.

On this journey, it was slowly dawning on me, I have no use for a guide without a scar.