the value of suffering (part 1)


It’s hard to measure and express in words the exact feelings I carried around inside me, even before the accident happened. I had reached the absolute end of my energetic resources and for quite some time felt as if I had been watching little bits of my soul and skin fracture and fly away in slow motion. There were different points in the last year when and where I would feverishly attempt to catch my own drifting particles and reattach them to my person. But after this little exercise in futility I soon realized (again) that some passages in life cannot be cheated or circumvented. Some passages in life won’t let you pray or plead or crawl or bawl your way out of them because they must be gone through. They must be suffered. It is the cost of being human, the payment we make for living on this planet. Everyone bleeds. Dying while you’re alive is one of the most important and central agents ushering us closer to the Divine and our true selves.

So I stopped struggling against the inevitable and opened up to the season such as it was; yearned, even, for what I could learn from her fire; allowed a journey to my own end. And the whole story might be for another day, another blog, or maybe not at all. I don’t know.

But what I can say for sure is this: I had arrived at the point where my insides were wiped out and dried up as if a great tidal wave had come through and cleared everything out, then a 500 degree furnace had cooked all the bits to crisp. This wasn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time I had absolutely nothing left. The weight of living through so much consecutive hardship had finally fallen on top of me and drawing deep breaths wasn’t an option from lungs that had gone flapjack-flat.

After teetering on the edge of what I perceived to be my limit, I decided to organize my own resurrection <insert maniacal laughter followed by a consternation face>.

And the funny thing is: I know I’m not the knower of what’s best for me. What’s even funnier is: I know resurrection can’t be conjured with the right formula or bought with a little extra down time, but somehow I thought a few quiet days would act like a magic wand, turning my desert places into an oasis. So Austin and I organized a weekend just according to my acute (as in: desperate) needs.

The plan was for him to take our three boys four hours north to the Green Mountains where my sister and her family live and there they were to spend the weekend skiing the nearby downhill slopes with their cousins. I was going to stay home alone and soak up solace and Spirit. It was a carefully crafted plan in which everyone was sure to win and when they packed their excited carcasses into the car on Friday night, I kissed and waved them goodbye with well wishes for THE BEST Vermont-bound adventure ever.

And yet, even with the most carefully crafted plans, it never ceases to surprise me how quickly everything can change; how life can snatch a single moment out of time, jump high and sideways with it, then drop it to the ground where it’s likely to land all smashed and skweee hawed.

On Saturday, March 28th, I had just gotten home from my daily rehab swim at the Y (Oh, hey! I broke my ankle back in January) when my phone lit up with a message from my sister that sent my stomach straight to my socks: “Maggie just called from the ski lodge and told me Gabe hurt his leg. Austin is on his way to the hospital with him. He doesn’t have service on the mountain, but he’ll call you as soon as he can.”

Even though this is the kind of news that every mother can’t wait not to hear, there still didn’t seem to be any need for panic. “Hurt his leg” could mean a range of injuries from inconsequential to alarming, but somehow I just knew.

I knew the situation was serious and therefore waited 30 impatient minutes for Austin to regain cell service, during which time I couldn’t help the despairing direction of my thoughts. I wondered if my body could handle anymore scars; if I could possibly bleed any more blood?

What I needed was balm and rebirth and I was about to be reminded that in the economy of a Kingdom that would dare not to be neat; that would dare not to follow the definitions we’ve scrawled in our dictionaries, wounding can be synonymous with healing.

When the call finally came through my convictions were confirmed: He told me what Gabe’s leg looked like the first second he saw it, how it was detached and bent inwards at the hip, positioned weird and dangly. He told me about the screaming sounds and my intestines turned over. My neck went hot and I wanted throw-up my toenails.

Then Austin sent me a picture of his face, told me Gabe had a bruise on his brain and I lost a battle with weeping.

They had chosen a black diamond hill to go down, but what they hadn’t prepared for was all the ice. Gabe’s skis hit slickened snow and he lost control of his S-work and found himself flying down a steep slope at shrieking speed. He was heading right for a wall of woods when he decided to fall sideways and that decision had its consequences, but might’ve just saved his life.

And this aching mama was hours south from her firstborn boy. The desire to touch his face and see deep in his soul windows was so strong I could taste it, but I couldn’t motor my own way to his bedside because the half-healed injury on my driving foot wouldn’t be able to sustain putting a pedal to the metal.

So I sent out a group text to our community and within moments I had three people offer to hike me to the hospital in Burlington. My younger sister ended up being my chauffeur and we loaded up and hit the road in record time.

15 minutes into our trip I published a prayer request on social media and in rapid fire succession my screen began buzzing with messages, emails, texts, comments and calls–each one bearing the fruit of profound and honest love. And with each prayer and well wish a picture began to form in my minds eye. All the words being spoken over us looked like flying trails of sparking light crossing the sky from all corners and landing right into our laps. Our story of pain and anguish became everyone’s story too. We were suddenly all scarred together, holding on to each other and for our dear lives. There were arms everywhere. It was an absolute and luminous surrounding and the most astonishing sensation began moving through my cells.

Friends and acquaintances–saints–from all over the world (as far and wide as Australia, Oregon, England and Iraq) were reaching through space and distance and circumstances just to stick their fingers in my (our) veins and I could feel the bleeding stop. I could feel heaven and healing happen in real time.

You can ask my sister. The energy encompassing us wasn’t average. The peace and joy had an audacious quality to it. Our seams were bursting and we couldn’t stop belting Jesus songs and Katy Perry songs. All the way north we danced with our lips and lungs and arms and hearts, prayed and praised and laughed and I set my gaze to the flashing roadside landscape and cried the tears of someone being born again.

We arrived at 10pm and Gabe was still in the emergency room. The doctors had just pulled his leg straight so they could get more X-rays and Austin said it was a good thing I wasn’t there when that procedure went down. Gabriel’s face looked exactly like he’d taken a nose dive down a mountain, his leg was just as Austin had described it to me and he was puking from the pain meds he’d been given. But just being able to put a hand to his head, to soothe like mamas do, was such a relief.

By midnight we were herded up to the PICU (the doctors wanted to keep a close watch on him, especially because of the contusion on his brain) where they gave our bub anesthesia so they could straighten his leg again, get it set in traction until morning and put a catheter in. Surgery was scheduled for 11am.

Austin and I crashed on a twin size cot next to Gabe’s bed around 2am and “slept”. And by “slept”, I mean: We listened with half an ear to the constant noises and bustling activities of the intensive care floor while we drooled from our half-conscious faces.

The surgeons came in early and discussed with us their carefully crafted plan for Gabe’s surgery and it all sounded very simple and straightforward, with a bada boom bada bing ring to it. But sometimes life has a way of snatching a single moment out of time and jumping high and sideways with it, then dropping it to the ground where surgeons’ carefully crafted plans can fall to pieces . . .

(Thank you, so much my friends, for reading along! Part 2 will be coming soon and with it, the reasons why suffering became a hard and fast, carved in concrete family value of ours.)

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