Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Life is a bit like Epilepsy…

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with Epilepsy- right in the middle of my freshman year at college. Just like that- woke up one day feeling fine, woke up a second time that day in a hospital, and walked out the next day with a chronic illness. Life is full of surprises.

The next few years of my life were a crash course in medications and side effects. I watched my abilities drop away, one by one. The coordination of a major athlete- gone. The conversation skills of an articulate lover of language- gone. The healthy body of an active 18 year old- gone. The intense focus of a good student- gone. It went on and on, with each change of medication only increasing the struggle. And the changing is the worst. The side effects are bad at any time, but while you are switching- well, you are sicker and more at risk than at any other time.

At the end of my junior year, as I finished transitioning onto my third attempt at finding the right medication, I had reached a point of being…functional. Not good, really, but not getting worse for the first time since that January of my freshman year. I could basically get by, and that was a relief indeed. Still, I felt poisoned, could feel toxins all the way in my fingertips, so we went to a specialist at the CU medical center. It was not long into that appointment when the neurologist looked at me and said, “I can tell that you are not yourself. I can tell that you are brighter, cheerier, livelier than you are now. And I know of a medication that I am almost sure will allow you to get back to that place. But you’ll have to change medications again. And it will get worse- maybe much worse- before it gets better.”

I am glad that some medical students were observing my appointment that day, because they got to see that prescribing meds is not some emotionless task, a matter of business. Because I just sat there and cried. The thought of changing meds one more time, of losing those abilities all over again, of walking into a time of being terrified of seizures at every juncture of my day…I couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel normal. So I wasn’t sure it was worth it. The choice was mine. But as I felt another twinge of that toxic feeling, felt the drowsiness of the drugs sweep over me, I agreed.

It did get worse. I was so sick, and so at risk for seizures, that I was barely allowed to be alone for months. I felt horrible. My emotions were shot. I was half angry with the stupid doctor that wouldn’t just leave well enough alone. Functional was good enough for me. But then months passed, and I felt energy coming back. I could suddenly focus on things in the way I once did. A year later, I graduated magna cum laude and healthy as could be. Now, even after three years, I am still overwhelmed with gratitude when I finish yet another paper on the journey to my master’s degree, when I taste the sweet exhaustion that comes from a day on my mountain bike, when I face a week almost totally free from fear. The choice had been mine. I am so glad that I chose to get worse, trusting that doctor to know how to get me from better to best. From half-well to healthy.

Recently, God asked me to step back into one of the most painful places in my heart. It was an area that I knew was only half-well. But oh, it had felt so good to be functional, to be getting by. Still, I heard him say, “I know you, Katie, because I created you. There is even more life to be found in you. I know how to take you from better to best, from half-well to healthy. But it will have to get worse- perhaps quite painful- before it gets better. The choice to trust me is yours.” So, here I am, changing the meds of my life. There are days when it is overwhelmingly painful. But he is the Great Physician. And I know it’s going to be sweet when I finally taste that place in my heart that is not just better- it’s best. And oh, how I will live!

“Let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:13

Friday, May 26, 2006

All I Have In Him...

"All of you is more than enough for all of me,
for every thirst and every need,
you satsify me with your love,
and all I have in you is more than enough."
(Chris Tomlin)

It had been a while since I had heard this song when we sang it at church last Sunday night. Of course, it served as yet another example of God's intimate knowledge of my heart: I have been feeling thirst and need in a deeply painful and acute way as of late. As I raised my voice with the people around me, the song became as much a prayer as it was a declaration. I found myself thinking, "Father, please let me know this is true." When I spend days upon days feeling an ache I can't quite even name, I want to truly know that he is enough for me.

When I was in college, a mentor once challenged me to just sit down and tell God what I need him to be. This is both an intimidating and vulnerable thing to do. But how will I know that he really is enough- no, MORE than enough- if I am not honestly coming to him with my lack? In many ways, I suppose it is a matter of trust, both in his power and in his love for me. Do I really believe his love is big enough to satisfy all the hurting places? And even moreso, do I really believe that he will answer when I call out in such pain? Do I believe this enough to say "no" to the all the counterfeits for satisfaction and just wait for him to come through?

As I drove home from school yesterday, I felt like I was about to drown in a Grand Canyon of anxiety and need. So I took my mentor’s advice: I resolved to refuse the counterfeits, and I came before God with my lack. It was less than eloquent, but it was all I could muster.

C.S. Lewis described healing from pain as “the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.” I’m not sure when it happened- whether it was when I walked into the calm of an unexpectedly empty house, or when I stepped out into the most perfect evening air imaginable. I don’t know if it was as I ambled past grazing deer, or when I paused to watch the way the sprinkler water rolled in rivulets, dropping from leaf to leaf down a tall-stalked plant. I don’t know the details, but somewhere in those few hours since my pained cry, the room had started to warm, and the sun was coming in. By the time I looked around, well….you know that impossibly deep canyon?

It was filled up with more than enough.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

For any who wonder, "scribbled ink portrait" comes from a poem I wrote in college, which follows:


You nodded politely,
and brought your eyes back to my face
in time to smile weakly.

I'm glad you heard my noise.

I suppose I had hoped
my words
would help you reach me here.
I hate His silence
yet, again,
and forever,
your answer brings no satisfaction.

Just go.

Scribble, crumple-
this paper holds no peace for me.
Scribble, crumple-
The words have come
with only my face to react.

Reread and rest.

don't call me a poet.
A poet writes poems.
But I,
grasp a scribbled ink portrait
of myself.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thoughts on Funerals and Friendship

As I type this, my good friend from college is probably finally getting home from her father's funeral today. I returned from there (Denver) just a few hours ago, still feeling overwhelmed- maybe just blindsided- by it all. She's just 23. Her sister will graduate from high school this week. There are few times when such an intense empathy has come over me, as I find myself thinking of all that she must miss- his voice, his hugs, his wisdom. I had met the man only a few times, but it didn't take long to see he was amazing.
I was reminded today of one of the gifts we have in friendship- to mourn with those who mourn. I think at times we think of that as the bum part of the deal- that we enjoy the rejoicing and will endure the mourning. True, I don't wish for the kind of circumstances that bring about a day like this. They are tragic and painful. But I do treasure the gift of my friend's tear-stained face buried in my shoulder, and of just being able to stand nearby for a while during the chaos of the post-funeral greeting time. I felt so blessed to stand there with several other college friends, seeing the way that the Father brings us together, allows us to do all of life's ups and downs as a team. The last time we were all together, in fact, was for the same friend's wedding in July.
Again and again, I believe that the enemy loves to tell us, as the hurter, not to be a burden. And he tells the comforter that we might be a bother, or actually convinces us to be annoyed. What a tragic lie! He is tampering with one of the most precious things the Body can do- hurt together. When we allow ourselves to weep together as freely as we laugh, God's love is indeed made complete in us. It is worship. And it is ever so sweet.