Dear friend: Tired eyes, medicine cups & 3 things saving my life.
All the things I'd tell you if we were drinking coffee together today. ☕
I’m so glad to be writing to you, as the crocuses say hello, feeling like tangible proof that spring is not far off. I’ve been savoring my favorite coffee in my mug these days, made even better by the fact that my dear friend roasts it, (this is truly one of the only ones I don’t feel the need to add any milk or flavor to!). I love to picture us both sipping as the steam wisps from our cups, and I lean in, to share my heart with you.
For as lovely as the first signs of spring and a comforting mug in hand are, the last weeks have been filled with more sickness for our family. The list of ailments and afflictions would be comical if it wasn’t so exhausting and hard to live through. I’ve felt disoriented lately at so many plans made and cancelled, the vigilance of assessing symptoms, and the cost of midnight wake-up cries. It feels like I keep getting spun around for round after round of “pin the tail on the donkey” and I don’t even want to be playing this game.
In a recent conversation with a close friend, I mentioned my desire to suffer well in this season. She gently asked what I meant by that, and gave the kind push-back that perhaps, I didn’t need to suffer well. I could just suffer. I’ve been sitting with that question in these days of doctor’s visits and tired eyes and medicine cups. What do I mean when I say “suffer well?”
It certainly sounds like it could mean a sort-of stoic experience, gritting my teeth and keeping my head down. In an effort to not be seen as complaining, I’d cope with my suffering by denying how deeply I’m impacted. I’d wait until I was utterly desperate and at the end of myself, before voicing how much pain I’m in. And as I’m probably more prone to this mode of coping than complaining, I feel sensitive to how I can slip into this mode. But just because it might be familiar does not make it good. I have learned the cost of this kind of behavior in recent years, and I know this isn’t the kindest path forward, for me or those I love.
I think it was in the aftermath of my son throwing up last week that I spent more time thinking about suffering. I had a front row seat to my sweet boy’s pain. He had cried and yelled before & during the awful experience, and then cried quietly and let me hold him after it was over. As I remember his loud wails, his quiet sobs, and his tender vulnerability, I noticed how grateful I was that he felt safe to let all of that pain out, that he gave expression to his suffering. I didn’t wish he’d been quiet or cried less. I didn’t think he was complaining or seeking attention. He was merely voicing his anguish in a way that invited me to be with him. Wasn’t this the very picture of lament?
As I sat with this experience of my son’s sickness, I heard the invitation that this is what I’m invited into: voicing my pain in order to experience the Lord’s presence with me.
I love what Tish Harrison Warren says in her book, Prayer in the Night:
Sickness is not the way things are supposed to be, and we don’t have to pretend otherwise. But if we let it, our physical vulnerability can show us who we are and teach us to cry out to God (sometimes in moans, sometimes through vomiting). We find then that God meets us precisely when we have nothing to offer.
We are frail. None of us are the sum of our achievements. All of us are creatures who stink and swell and wear out and are utterly loved. Knowing this brings freedom.
As I’ve heard the invitation this Lent to pay attention to when I fall into scarcity thinking and orphan mentality, I see the connection with this question of suffering well. I notice how even the phrase “suffer well” feels unhelpful, as though it is a performance that I could do well or poorly in, as though I’m on my own to sort this out. It is tempting to numb and deny the truth of how deeply I’m hurting, instead of allowing myself to give voice to my pain and invite the Lord to meet me here, like the beloved child that I am.
I’m slowly making my way through an early copy of Alicia Britt Chole’s book, The Night is Normal (which comes out July 2023.) One sentence that stopped me in my tracks was this: “Honesty is a means of honoring reality.”
How I want this to be my story of suffering. I want to honor reality with my honesty, to face the darkness with courage, trusting that even here, I will be held. I don’t want to numb or deny the pain I’m experiencing, missing out on the way the Lord meets me. I don’t want to stoically ignore the ways I’m aching. I want to cry out, voicing my pain and finding the Lord with me there, allowing myself to receive the love that is already mine.
I shared a video recently about a prayer practice that I’ve adopted from Psalm 139 and have been making space for the past few years. It struck me that part of this psalm almost reads like a children’s book.
Where can I go from your presence?
The depths? You’ll be there.
The heights? You’ll be there.
It has been a gift to help me honor reality with my honesty to make my own list of where the Lord is with me, the way the psalmist does. I love this child-like expression of reminding my own heart that there is nowhere I can go, nothing I can experience that is apart from his love. It has helped me so much to have a template for plugging in my own specifics, allowing the truth of my pain and the Lord’s presence with me to coexist.
If I struggle to get out of bed and wonder if I’m going to make it, you are there.
If I leap out of bed, ready for the new day, you are there.
If I am at home, going about the simple tasks of laundry and making dinner, you are there.
If I am experiencing a new adventure, far from home, you are there.
If I am triggered and anxious, my fight or flight response activated, you are there.
If I feel safe and comfortable, you are there.
If I am weeping, the sobs pouring out of me, from the depth of my heart, you are there.
If I clutch my belly, as tears roll down my eyes from the laughter that shakes my whole body, you are there.
If I’m weary and worn out, you are there.
If I’m full of energy, you are there.
If I feel lonely and unseen, you are there.
If I feel celebrated and loved, you are there.
If long-held lies of what I must do to be loved are loud, you are there.
If the truth of my belovedness grounds me, you are there.
You are there.
Tish Harrison Warren says, “In life’s school of love, suffering—what doesn’t kill us—makes us more alive to our need and helplessness and, therefore, more able to give and receive love.” Even as I’m lamenting the pain and discomfort of more sickness, I also feel so aware of the gifts in this time and the way I’m receiving love.
As I end this letter to you, here are 3 things saving my life these days:
Daffodils & the gift of friendship—A friend reached out this week and offered to pick up some things for me if I needed it, as she did her own shopping that day. My list wasn’t short and I almost declined, feeling concerned for inconveniencing her or telling myself I could probably do it myself. But then I paused to notice how helpful it would, how my orphan mentality was coming into play here. I trust that she wouldn’t have offered without meaning it. So I said yes, giving her my whole list, even with the permission to not get things if there wasn’t room or it was too much. But she not only brought me my groceries, but the gift of daffodils and chocolate. I can’t stop smelling these fresh blooms and feeling so deeply loved.
Movie nights—As sad as I am to leave behind precious seasons with my kids, each new season brings its own gifts. And one of the gifts of this season with elementary school children (that can still be enjoyed even in sick days) is movie nights. We spent many sweet nights together on the couch, finding things all four of us want to watch which always feels like a tiny miracle. I’ve loved watching Treasure Planet, Stardust, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, Ratatouille and Mulan. Dessert hummus at a recent movie night was also a big hit for dipping fruit and pretzels in.
Muffins—As a gluten free baker, I’m often on the hunt for recipes that taste as good as if they were baked with gluten. I found this muffin recipe 5 years ago, and have since adapted it to be the base of so many different kinds of muffins. I’m calling it, “Choose Your Own Adventure Muffins” as it is incredibly versatile (I’m sharing all my favorite mix-ins), and is simply delicious. It only uses 1 cup of flour and works with gluten or gluten-free in my experience. And, if you haven’t discovered silicone muffin cups for your baking, they are a revelation!
Dear friend, thank you for being here with me. It means so much that you want to read this letter. As always, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to just hit "reply" to this email. Whether you want to share a prayer request, tell me what is saving your life, or if my words brought up anything for you, I’d be so glad to know.
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Thank you for this very tender glimpse into your life and the difficulties of being honest and vulnerable in our suffering. Praying with you for health in every body in your home.
I just made the chocolate hummus and I love it! So does my 3 year old - so what a nice and delicious protein treat.