The Sunday after New Year’s I sat in church and sang an old hymn. I was having trouble paying attention that day. I was singing without much thought to the words. I wondered where we would eat lunch. I hoped my kids would stop squirming. I was tired. I was there, but I wasn’t there.
And suddenly the lyrics caught me.
“All is well with my soul”
I noticed the word soul, but mostly I noticed what it didn’t say.
It didn’t say all is well with my health. (or bank account, or relationships, or job or kids clean house).
We kept singing it and I kept having to admit that I want a few more promises.
I was ready to have myself a pity party that morning because a health issue had come back. I have a nerve condition that causes chronic pain in my face. Since I was having symptoms again I had done some research online, which we all know is a terrible idea. Let’s just say that the internet was not encouraging. At the time, it wasn’t bothering me too badly…but knowing that there are treatments but no cures, that it is progressive and only going to get worse had me down. Let’s just say that I would have much preferred to sing a song about God fixing everything rather than lyrics promising sorrow and trials. The chorus kept being repeated and had the nerve to remind me that my soul is what should determine my wellness. Not WebMD.
A few days later, my nerve irritation became completely debilitating. It kicked in with a force I was not expecting or ready for regardless of what I read online. The pain literally took my breath away easily a hundred times that day. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drive. I didn’t want to leave my house because the cold on my face caused electric shocks to jolt through my skull.
I upped my dosage. I made lots of soup. I wanted to cry, but even that hurt.
I was scared.
I mean, I miss chips and salsa like a long lost lover, but I can’t imagine not talking.
I talk for a living.
I can’t imagine not laughing.
I hate that I involuntarily recoiled when my husband tried to kiss me, or my kids jump on me or a kind friend who showed up with a pot of soup leaned in for a hug.
I sat on my couch without moving my face or changing my shirt or brushing my teeth for exactly a day and half when I had run out of TV to watch.
And I realized something, I hurt anyways.
Regardless of how much I tried to protect myself from pain — I was still having symptoms.
Timing for this resurgence could not have been worse. It was finals at school, I had my first meeting for my graduate program and a realtor was coming to look at our house. Kids emailed me questions about grades and a few just asking if I was ok, I worried how I’d make it all the way to A&M and what kind of first impression I’d make in this condition. As usual, I never made it to worrying about the state of my messy house.
I am not great at self pity (although it doesn't stop me from occasionally trying) and know that pain wasn’t something unique to me. I had a friend planning her father’s memorial service. Another going in for a double mastectomy. Earlier in the week I had seen a teenager lying dead face down in the middle of the street. My pain seemed little compared to those things, but it still hurt like hell.
So much of our life is spent avoiding pain. Being safe. Protecting ourselves and the ones we love. And there are times when it is wise to take unnecessary risks and to protect those that can not protect themselves. But lots of times we are just hiding. We are afraid. Of failing. Of rejection. Of what someone who probably isn’t even paying attention will think. I decided this pain thing, it is unavoidable. We can’t hide from it. We can however, hide from joy and love and experience and all kinds of other awesome things that are not going to suddenly show up on my couch. Being human, I suppose, is all some kind of lesson in pain management. I am talking about my face, but could just as easily be talking about my heart. Recently I have done some unnecessary pain management in that area as well. I called the doctor again. I took more meds, but I also got off the couch. I kissed my daughter good night even though I knew it would hurt and even read her a short story (very short). I went to work. I answered my parents questions even though my face got so tired that eventually the nerve shut down and my entire face sagged a little to the left. (temporarily). I made small talk at my meeting, which is usually painful enough with out any kind of condition. I cleaned the bathroom. (ok, this doesn’t require any nerve pain on my part but I still hate to clean).
I decided that just because something is painful doesn’t mean it might not be worth it.
I tried a new medicine today and it seems to be working but I am still even having to put my soup in the blender before trying to eat it. (On the plus side this may very well be the best diet ever). I have gotten better at pushing through the pain. It doesn’t seem to paralyze me the way it did a few days ago. I have gotten better at choosing the kinds of things that are worth it.
I have gotten better at focusing on my soul rather than my pain tolerance.
or my body.
or my bank account.
or how my jeans fit.
or how messy my kitchen is.
These last few days have been possibly my most physically painful ever.
But they easily haven’t been the worst days.
I have learned how to make a dang good smoothie and some great soup.
I have laughed and smiled a few times anyways.
I have learned to choose the words I speak with a little more care. (because if it is likely to result in pain your stories suddenly get a lot shorter).
This pain will pass.
And then it will most likely come back again.
But, my soul.
It will not be damaged. Or managed. Or protected.
It is well.