Chapter 19: On Pain (and healing)

Most of us know that pain is gorilla-glued to the human condition.  I even think that most of us can summon some sort of peace in that knowledge—a nod, an honoring, I see you.

Trying to ignore the redemptive power of pain and healing in our world takes a lot of energy.  Because proof is sprouting from every inch of charcoaled land, bouncing off the bald heads in infusion rooms, and radiating from the walls of AA meetings, therapy sessions, and homeless shelters.

Wherever humanity finds a home, pain will unpack also.

But did you know that healing is stuck in that sticky, gorilla ooze, too?  That restoration is as human as tears, or pores?

There’s this patch of skin on the outside of my left heel that I just can’t stop picking at.  Little flecks of skin mostly, and every once in a while I larger piece that I rip away when the kids insult my cooking or David works late or another hurricane rolls by.

In middle and high school I tore away the entire bottom of my heel pads so that each step I took could remind me of my shit-stain status; so that I never forgot about the pain inside.  The pain proved I was alive, I could bleed, I was human & not a robot.  My wounds allowed me to fix something in my world of chaos and uncontrollable grief.

A bandaid might not be able to keep Ellen alive but it can help with the blood pooling in my shoe.

I’ve detailed the physical pain my bone marrow transplant & cancer treatment caused.  What I never had a chance, or the words, to describe, was my physical healing.  The one that gave me my life back.

You see, therapy worked really well for the first fifteen months, until it didn’t.  The pace slowed after the first year or so and I felt stuck.

But I’m still picking at my heel and my cuticle.

The aches aren’t easing.

I don’t want bandaids anymore, God.  Where is my wholeness?  I want to be fucking healed!

…like the bleeding woman…and every Bible character…and all humans ever…

We just want healing.  We want to feel unafraid and electric.  We want power, not too much that God would expel us from Eden, but enough that we don’t feel an overwhelming need to consume every croissant within reach.

I feel like that deserves an amen.

Did you know that showing up for our healing, our purpose, our life is literally the most courageous choice one can make?

In the middle of my six-week stint at outpatient rehab, a brawny paper towel man lookalike—who was graduating and forced to sprinkle a little inspiration on the newbies—stood in front of the group and drenched us.

“As a fireman, my buddies and me, we’re considered heroes.  But you know what?”  He says with tears pooling.  “You all are the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

I want to be fucking healed!

Say it with me.

So for the first time in my life the patch of skin is starting to heal.  It’s heel-ing.  Yes, I’ve gone months without abusing it before, but then I could fall back on butter and coffee—that is not the case anymore.

There’s nothing to fall back onto except Grace, and a Goodhardgood God.  Thanks God, for adoring me even when I black out and yell at my kid so loud she pees in fear.  Thanks for holding that so I don’t have to ingest it, or pick at it, or cut it, or drink it, or anything else with it.

Inhale.

Exhale.

How could I stop showing up for the free kingdom compost that God so gladly shovels out?  Ellen showed me how to do that, too.  She never stopped planning her “healed party” at Charlie Sheen’s house because pain and healing are a part of the glue that hold us together, something my sister understood well.

What if I told you that sometimes I go talk to Jesus in my bedroom?  And while laying on my white cloud bed in the dark I allow Him to massage me with these healing flashlights that He keeps in a burlap man purse.  A warm red glow softens up my body and melts away the fear.  And then the pain is gone.  Do you want to go?  I’ll take you to Him.

What about the fact that my brain never fully believed my cancer was gone, and that’s why radiating pain plagued my limbs for years, even after the scans came back clean?  Because in my mind and body the cancer was still killing me.

Or that it wasn’t until I realized I was finally, and truly, safe from my mom’s belts that my back pain started to disappear?  Because when my roots felt safe, my core muscles could finally relax and contract, strengthen, move.

Did you know that dread causes pain?  Do not be afraid.  No wonder!  God doesn’t want us to hurt, God wants us to heal.

If pain is a part of our world, then healing is, too.

The Brawny Man is correct.  Showing up for all of your life and trusting a Healer is harder than cancer treatment, the death of a loved one, abuse, infertility, parenthood, divorce, infidelity, trying to explain to foreigners how Trump got elected, and running into burning buildings.

Hold and honor your pain, yes.  It is an awfully beautiful part of your story.  And then, when it starts to feel too itchy & the circles under your eyes become darker than you remember, you have my permission to step toward the redemption that Love offers us all every moment of every day.

To craft and claim a New Story.

It will be the hardest work you do.  It will cost you more than you thought it would.  But I can see that you’re tired of bandaids.  Me too.

Say it with me…

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Chapter 20: On Justice (and Jesus)

 

Here’s the thing about a Good life with a capital ‘g’— our thankfulness is not enough.  Acknowledging our blessings is only half of the call, and our praise without our action is just blue-balling God.

I’ve purposely left Jesus out of much of the story up until now because mostly, Jesus was a hero who didn’t belong to me; He belonged to the church.  Worship songs about those pierced hands and feet tasted stale after a couple of decades.

It never made sense that God would reject gay people but not liars, since they’re both mentioned in the Bible.  I lie all the time.  Wouldn’t it have been great if we witnessed His outrageous embrace growing up in the evangelical tradition?

We memorized Scripture so we had little bullets stored in our brains, ready to spew out in college and adulthood whenever we felt our theology threatened.  But what about the Bible as a love letter?  We missed the metaphors and allegories and poetry because we feared God’s love would run out when we questioned or doubted or…changed.

Jesus was a pencil drawing whose defining characteristics had been erased by Systematic Theology textbooks and fearful imperatives about abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, debt, wealth, race, etc.

The jesus many Millennials (and recovering evangelicals) know is one who cares more about the less significant theological trees than about the forest of grace, mercy, faith, and justice open to the public twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

When I stopped using substances to dull the brightness of a Goodhardgood life, my eagerness to thrive and heal blinded me to the hundreds of millions of others who don’t have the same access to healing as I do.  Many of the posts here on this site focus of my healing, on my experiences, and on my story.

And that is fine, that was a part of the process—lots to extract.  Owning my own story here finally helped me believe in the collective stories we all have to tell.  Before, I didn’t know that part of my purpose was to help others hug their own Goodhardgood stories, too.  I just thought I was making peace with my own.

Sometimes we decide to stop dissolving pills under out tongues, and in that moment a brand new story starts to write itself on our hearts.  My new story felt so safe and right until the itchy, burdensome cloak of anxiety and discontent found me.

One day Jesus asked me to step deeper into the story of Kingdom Come.  Would you hand me that cloak, sweetie?  Would you go out and wreck the world like only a love hulk can?

I bet He’s asking you, too.  Can you feel it in the air?  Old stories are falling off of us like snake skin that’s grown too tight.  You and I?  We are the lovers God commanded to live justly, with compassion and humility.

Thanks God isn’t enough, though it’s the perfect place to start.

Things start to get really fun and terrifying when you ask, How can I help?

Justice is like asking permission to strap God’s glasses onto every human you meet, after you’ve put them on yourself.  Once we’ve all seen through heaven’s eyes in our own sockets, we put our hands and feet and prayers and pocketbooks to use.

Behind the big gray sofa in my living room a giant window keeps me smiling.

All the glories and horrors of our life get ushered back and forth by the breeze.  When a kid chops off a finger, I hear the screams and run out to attend.  When a kid belts out Trolls on the front porch the melodies dance through the opening and I smile.  Spring lilacs tip toe into the house using the same soft gusts that escort the yellow, peppery roses later in the season.

My days are better because of this window.  I’ve written about it before; how this little eden wrecks me with it’s perfection; how David’s help severs my bonds to the dishwasher and stove and laundry baskets, I’m a free woman!  And don’t get me started on the divinity of nap times and negative PET scans.

C.S. Lewis describes the weight of glory, and here—in front of this window—it rests heavy.

Now I know:  if I want the big open window and loving spouse, educated children, and good harvests for me then that means I need to fight for everyone’s access to those glories.  If something feels good and right for me, I need to step beyond thankfulness and plunge headfirst into social justice.  Just like Jesus and Buddha and Mama T did.

What if we trusted that each member of humanity was on our team?  That we all played for the same coach, suited up in the same dressing room, sprinted on the same field, and won identical prizes no matter what?

Jesus tried so hard to get us to see this.  That’s why He washed out feet and broke our bread, no matter what.  We’re all on the same team, you guys.  He rolls his eyes and sips His wine.

Ellen used to say “Hi, I’m Ellen.  Do you know Jesus?” to everyone she met, because she knew that Jesus had their name tattooed on His bicep.  She wanted to make sure the feeling was mutual.

Once, toward the end, a hospice chaplain stopped by for some reason.  He walked into her room and she asked him, “Do you know Jesus?”

“Well, yes.  Look, I’m wearing a cross and carrying a Bible.”

“No.  Do you know Jesus?”

Ellen didn’t care about the trees, the theologies, or the doctrine.  Ellen focused on the forest of Love in which Jesus let us loose.  “Knock yourselves out! Holler when you need me!”

When you start to see God’s love for all humanity, you start to care a little bit more about the healthcare, safety, and sleeping conditions for all humanity.  It hurts to look at the bloated babies who wash onto the Grecian shores.  Watching an unarmed black person getting choked to death by police officers isn’t how I planned on spending my evening.

But that’s where you’ll find Jesus.  Excusing injustice becomes awfully hard when you’re standing so close to Him that you notice the tears streaming down His face.

Yes I want the wind sweeping through my window.  I want the money for massages and the right to love my partner till the day those mossy green eyes close forever.  I just want it for all people now.  And I will resist any theology that tells me I am more deserving of it than anyone else.

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Chapter 21: On Faith

I’m driving up to Boulder with David.  “Don’t Take The Money” blasts out of our open car windows while the warm August air swirls around inside.  The hair I decided to grow out flaps into my face and mouth, for so long I kept it short.

What if the cancer comes back and I lose it all—again?

As far as we know, the cancer has come back.  That’s why we’re headed up to Boulder for a biopsy of the largest and most worrisome lymph node that flared up in a recent, routine PET scan.

Report reads: “suspicious of malignancy.”

Where’s my eagle now?  I need you, Mama.

Two weeks before this drive along the foothills, on the day John McCain delivered his “thumbs down” on the Senate floor (I cried), a nice radiology tech escorted me back to the dark room after injecting me with the same dye that Rae survived.

If one blasts Alt-rock while wearing make-up & and a good blow out does that mean cancer won’t want her?  The hope is that the younger and more vibrant I appear, the less likely those greedy, rogue cells are to want my life.

Fuck this shit.

I’m twenty-nine!  I have four young children!  I finally woke up, sobered up, showed up, and now my Mama Eagle goes AWOL?  No.  I reject that.  I’m not hitting those rocks.  You hear that, God?  Cancer isn’t a part of this story anymore!

I know I campaigned on the platform of You not being a dick, but I feel duped.

My small doctor sticks a very long needle into my pelvis and sends me home to the wonderful monsters, the needy garden, the glory and horror of a life in limbo.  Every night I cry.  I text friends hourly asking for prayers and help and funny GIFs.

A guarantee would be great.  I need to know that my lungs and pelvis are clear before I can belly laugh again.  Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans drip off their trellises; I can’t even harvest anymore.  My life on my terms or no life at all!

My faith is fizzling.  I’m stuck.  The swoop is gonna come too late.

***

I signed a contract.

I, Claire, will only eat organic food, take anti-inflamatory supplements, and live a holistic, healthy lifestyle in exchange for never getting cancer again.

I’ve made similar ones, before.

I, Claire, agree to do dishes, keep the house pretty, and stay limber so that my husband never leaves.

I, Claire, agree to feed my children on the most healthy (read: expensive & time-consuming) meals so that they don’t develop cancer, too.  And so they don’t get fat; life as the fat kid nearly ruined their mother.

David and the kids didn’t have to sign it them.  No, these belong to me.

The thing is, even the cleanest eaters get sick.  And I know amazing women who have wandering husbands.  Does food play a part?  Yes, which is where our Next Loving Step  comes in handy.  Don’t you wish sometimes that you were God?

Instead of making peace with the free fall and flight we keep pens handy just in case an agreement surfaces that calms our crazy.

We believe more exercise, better schools, more sex, bigger budgets, and stronger borders will help us.  Don’t those just reinforce our control?  We sign the dotted lines, vote along party lines, wait in check-out lines for the clothing and hand soap that will make us a little less OCD.

Where’s the faith in that?  I think faith is simply choosing to believe that God’s not a dick, and embracing the thought that no matter what, our Mama will swoop.  Faith might also mean believing that even if shit hits the fan, we’ve got a Mama in a hazmat suit who specializes in biohazardous materials.

Don’t worry, She says while scraping poo off our walls.  I’m here now.  She hands me disinfectant spray.  Yeah, but where were You before it all got so shitty?

The contracts we keep stored in our purses and basement boxes keep us enslaved, and afraid.  What if I violate the terms and agreements and buy non-organic?  Or don’t do the dishes?  Or vote _______?  (You fill in that blank.)

But believing God is everything God says S/He is?  That’s brave and it gives me chills. That means we have to believe God is Good & Hard—at the same time.

My contract with my own cancer keeps me enslaved to expensive foods, supplements, and anti-inflammatories galore.  Do they work?  Yes, probably.  I’m just not sure that the anxiety of skipping Chlorella for a week or two should make me pick at my heel.  Stress is proven to feed cancer cells.  Non-organic eggplants are not—yet.

So I’ll take my chances with the eggplant and celery and break my contract with the holistic health system one veggie at a time.  Don’t tell me eggplant is a fruit, I know that.

I trust in God’s Goodhardgoodness and my own NLS.  I believe that neither I nor anyone else can fuck it up.  For all the free falls I’ve taken, not one has ended in anything other than glorious flight.  Always.

***

There’s still a week left before our drive back up to Boulder for the pathology report.  David and I fall asleep whispering Scripture to each other with tears crusted to our faces.  Every fear we thought we defeated the last time around is surfacing.

It feels like watching an alligator lunge out of the shallow pond that looked so still and calm before the zebra bent down to drink.

12 days until the pathology report.

10 more days.

8 days.

6 days left.  The phone rings around 3:40pm, the week before school starts.  I really wanted to start the school year knowing…

Hello?

“Hi, Claire?”

“Yes!  Hi!”  TELL ME RIGHT NOW WHY YOU ARE CALLING.

“Pathology just came back clear.  We didn’t see any cancer in that node.”  THANK YOU.

“Wow.  That’s awesome.  Thanks for calling and letting me know.”

Inhale.

Exhale.

Thanks, Mama.

We cancelled the appointment, scheduled another FU scan for six months out to keep an eye on that pelvic motherfucker, and hung up.

Do you want to know something?  Even if the cancer was back David and I believe it would’ve been Good, and Hard, and Good.  They’re the same thing.

Cancer doesn’t obey contracts.

Neither do kids.

Or marriages.

Or the stock market.

What choice do we have then besides hugging chemo and debt so tightly that they pass right through us?

We must believe that when God reaches out to save, S/He doesn’t see the legal documents we’ve kept in storage.

God just sees the humus that needs some help.

Our lives prove this, and if you look deeply and honestly enough into your own story I bet you’ll be able to say the same thing.  Someday, if not today.  Do not lose hope.

You are loved beyond all reason and measure by a God who, despite popular opinion, is not a dick.

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