This past week, I spent a marvelous time exploring parts of Oregon and even more of Washington.
Now, as I sit typing in a cozy studio bungalow by myself, I can hear the ocean from Ediz Hook just a few feet away. I can hear a friendly bay horse whinnying for attention not far behind me, and a variety of birds (even an owl!) fussing to their neighbors. I now love the smell of real pine trees (a novelty in Dayton, Ohio), and the Olympic mountains make a fantastic backdrop to this serene setting. I feel at peace. I feel at home.
Yet, my family and most of my friends are back in Dayton, Ohio. My home in Ohio is far from the majestic mountains and relatively peaceful sea of Puget Sound, but it is hardly without charms of its own. The friendly smell of backyard firepits and evening grills, the sound of my children laughing and jumping through a sprinkler, my lovely garden and collection of books, and family and friends who are welcome to stop by any old time (and do!) I have missed while here.
In both Oregon and Washington I have met new friends, visited with family, and enjoyed aspects of nature I’ve not been able to enjoy in a very long time. I feel stronger than I have in years, and I’ve done much, much more than I have in years. I feel more peaceful and adventurous than I have in years. I feel invigorated, renewed. I have changed in subtle but important ways this week, and am excited about those changes.
The sea and the pines call me to stay, but my children and family are calling me back. Which way is home?
5 years ago I started down the long path of chronic illness. Interestingly, I have struggled (and continue to do so) through a series of varying issues, beginning with a little umbilical hernia. Right after that was fixed, I became pregnant with my last child which reopened the hernia and caused significant pain throughout my pregnancy. I had other pregnancy issues during that time too, and began to struggle with deep depression and suicidal thoughts. After the baby was born and my hernias (I developed 2 more!) fixed, I had a year to recover from my c-section and repairs.
Then my uterus went wonky. It had had enough apparently, and after suffering through months of random bouts of extreme pain, it was decided a hysterectomy was in order. After recovering from that, I had major teeth problems, and after getting that finally squared away, my side began to hurt (again). A little at first, then more and more and more. Adhesions (scar tissue) from the hysterectomy is the suspected cause and the only thing to do is chance an ovary removal and hope new adhesions don’t wrap around anything after that-like my bowel. And then last month my back and neck froze up, doctors were again consulted, x-rays were taken, and it was revealed that my two lowest vertebrae had slipped, degenerated, and were covered with arthritis.
Rewind back 8 years or so and I was living the life I mostly wanted. I was in control, I was educated, I had 2 kids, I took great care of them, my house, my husband, our cats, and my friends. I was highly involved in church, volunteered at a crises pregnancy center, homeschooled my kids in reading and numbers, went on regular dates with my husband, and worked a part-time job at a bookstore. I took short and long car trips with nary a care. Life was great!
Now fast-forward again to today. Every other week or so I battle deep depression stemming from the near-constant pain I have to deal with day in and day out. I often ask my poor stumped husband, “Why?” Why me, why this, why now, why won’t it stop, when will it end, will it ever end? When you are in pain, it can quickly become all-consuming. I can fight it, depending on the day, anywhere for 30min up to late afternoon without medication, but if the pain doesn’t stop or ease up (and it rarely does), it is very easy to despair. Fighting pain with or without medication takes a lot of energy. It is extremely frustrating being that out of control of your body.
What is the point of all this pain and suffering? As a Christian, I believe that God can take bad things and turn them for good. How? When? And again, why? “What am I supposed to be learning”, is a frequent, exasperated question of mine. “Just tell me, God!”
Last week was one of those weeks, but Wednesday I was able to go to my gym which has a pool. On my way there, I was grateful to be driving myself, and grateful that I hadn’t had to take any medicine so far that day. I thought about the line from the film The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” While swimming I reflected.
5 years ago, when all this happened I tried to stay strong thinking I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and it would all be over soon, as it often had before. 4 years ago, I was ready to give up, feeling instinctively that the light was a fraud and the tunnel collapsed. 3 years ago, I came to the conclusion that I had overworked my body and it was simply time for my husband to take up the slack for all those years of work I tried not to impose on him. 2 years ago I “knew” all this couldn’t last much longer, this was just a season we had to get through.
I have never believed that a person’s worth is/should be measured by their looks, wealth, or bodily/mental perfection. But last year, I finally let go of my belief that a person’s worth is measured by their rate of production. This year, I finally let go of my belief that a person’s worth is measured by the amount of influence or audience size they have. Last month I was terrified and despaired that I would be doomed to an ever-increasing life of pain until my untimely, early end. Today I am hopeful but not overly so, that my issues will someday soon come to an end and I will regain my body, pain-free. Regardless, this is what I’ve learned this month:
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life…” Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
As the pool water ran down my ponytail and the warm evening sunlight made the autumn leaves glow brightly on my drive home; as I stopped at my parents’ home, 8 houses down from mine and chatted pleasantly about nothing of “value”; as I pulled into my garage and saw my daughter pop her head over the fence in the backyard, yell out “Hi mommy!!” with a wave and a big grin; I realized that life was still good, just different. I am trying hard to simply enjoy the little things, doing what I can as I can, savoring each good moment and not worrying overmuch about the future. I don’t know what the next moment or tomorrow will bring, but I will choose to focus on the little things that bring happiness, like my new puppy who is sleeping peacefully in my lap as I type.