When I open my eyes I see blurry, fluorescent lights above me. My room is quiet and cold.
I sit up and look around, panic building in my chest.
I don’t know where I am.
I don’t know why I’m here.
And I don’t know where anyone I know is.
I’m hooked to machines and I begin frantically yanking at chords, including the IV in my left arm. A nurse enters the room just as I stand up out of bed and before I can ask “What’s happening?” she’s catching me mid-fall and laying me on the bed. She calls in another nurse who works to clean the blood from my arm and establish a new IV. Just as I go into another non-epileptic seizure, they get the IV in and pump the medication that stops the searing tremors.
Everything is a blur as I lose consciousness only to be jolted back to the racing heartbeat, racing thoughts, and racing world around me.
My head and heart are swimming and brimming with wonders.
God, do you see me in all this?
You are the words to a song I can’t remember.
The answer to a question I keep forgetting to ask.
You are the whisper in the wind I can’t quite catch.
I keep grabbing for you. Are you grabbing for me?
Can you yank me back from this edge?
I would settle for the fringe of Your garment to heal this hurt. I would settle for curling these shaking, crooked fingers around the hem of who You are, letting Your shadow fall over me in healing grace.
Because it was already getting darker; my heart was breaking long before I entered that hospital. I’d been barely surviving–now my body seemed to be failing me, again.
Sometimes, I get tired of surviving.
Don’t we all?
It seems my body and mind have been in survival mode for as long as I can remember. All of this, every moment, building and building until I feel I must break. If I’m not fighting a war in my body, then I’m fighting one in my mind.
Oh Lord, I’m tired.
I just want to rest. I don’t want to fight anymore.
And He curls me up in His arms.
He hasn’t given me a clear-cut explanation for all my pain; He hasn’t laid out a blueprint of my life, pointed to the foundations of my agony, and said “This, my child, is what I’m building.”
And I want Him to.
But blueprints and plans and explanations offer little solace in the middle of a storm. Telling me why I am in pain does little to console the pain within me. So instead, I let Him gather me up because while I want to know why, He wants to know me. When I want direction, He wants to direct my heart back to Him.
When morning breaks into dawn after another long night in ICU, dragging up mercies and fresh starts, my eyes open and my mind is flooded with all that I face. My hair is a mess and my face swollen, and my eyes are red and blurry and looked glazed over. My arms are bruised from IVs and my body aches from the days of what feels like a waking nightmare.
Somewhere in that spiral, sleep came to visit, came to put me out of my misery, and grant me rest.
When I look out the window of my hospital room, I see the evidence of His goodness. His grace manifested in golden rays that fall across my bed.
Can I look, though, at the night before and see him?
I think that we think we are supposed to know.
I think that I think that I am supposed to know.
But maybe it’s okay to wake up after a long night and say, “God, it got so dark, I got so scared, and I spiraled, and I couldn’t see You. I see You now, I feel You now like the sun on my face. I know You were there, I know You are here, so give me the strength and the grace to rest in that.”
It is only the next day when I find the picture my mother took of me as I rested. Chin tucked away in the soft, pink blanket gifted by a dearest friend, fingers clinging to my small, wooden cross.
How simple a symbol, yet how profound. That in our darkest moments, it is to the cross we cling. In our pain, we cling to the One who took on all pain for us.
All valleys of death must eventually meet their death at the foot of the cross, where all the pain and suffering of this fallen world is crucified and resurrected–redeemed.
It was late when I received the picture from my pastor of the cross in our church. Holy Saturday would soon wane into Easter morning, and they had faithfully prepared the baptistry.
It stole my breath and stopped my lungs for a moment. In the midst of rhythmic beeping and the hum of monitors, in the middle of my overwhelm, there was a break in the storm. It felt like a hand in the dark, reaching out to me in this Gethsemane, and lifting my chin to see that I wasn’t alone. That deliverance is sealed on my soul, no matter what trials I face this side of Heaven.
On Easter Sunday, I watched on video from my ICU bed as 4 people were baptized beneath that cross as I was clinging to my own.
And the image of the cross is forever burned in my mind as I am reminded that our God is a God who uses death to create life; the God whose love was displayed on splintered wood for me. And I know–I know–that it is that same God who sits beside me now. Who watches His child cling to her small, wooden cross, and takes hold of her hand as she clings to Him for healing, for hope, for life.
He takes all these valleys and builds mountaintops.
He takes all the pain and paints portraits of grace.
He takes every tainted happily-ever-after and writes epilogues of redemption to the stories that went so terribly wrong.
He tunes every dissonant chord into melodies that flow through our very veins.
I’ve seen Him do it again and again, and on the nights when it all feels like a little too much, I rest in knowing He has never once–not even for a moment–left my side.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
Rock of ages.
I find myself doing just that. With nothing else to offer but a broken body and tattered soul–like a ship coming in from a storm to make port, having barely escaped the winds that sought to sink me–I cling to this cross with hands connected to tubes and wires.
It’s hard to explain the portions of grace handed down in those moments.
There are so many moments of despair.
But they pale in comparison to the grace-filled moments of peace that descend in the most desperate of times.
I don’t know what lies ahead.
None of us do.
We all have something we are facing–a change, a loss, a trial, a half-hearted hope, a whispered prayer in the dead of night that your heart longs to have answered. We all want the blueprints. We all want the map. We all want a sign with big flashing words that say, “This is the way!”
So we look to the cross and ask for answers, oftentimes forgetting that it is the very tree we look upon for salvation that holds the answer. The bloody and worn wood is a compass in our darkest nights.
At the foot of the cross, we find our despair put to death.
And beyond the cross, we find empty tombs where death went to die and Life rose again in everlasting glory.
And up and up points that cross, up towards the heavens, up towards the Father, up towards eternity. A signal fire, a lighthouse, shining in the distance, reminding us that this is not our home.
Suffering is not our destiny.
Despair is not our defeat.
What we face here on earth will one day fall away, and we will rise among the saints, our gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face. And He’ll raise us up from the ground, from the hem of His robe to which we cling, and with tender care, He’ll tend to our wounds.
No matter what comes;
no matter the winds that blow;
no matter what awaits on the other side of this Red Sea–whether promised lands of milk and honey or a wilderness with heaven-fallen manna;
no matter the scars collected along the way;
no matter the diagnosis, no matter the trial, no matter the brokenness we may face;
no matter the trials that seek to overcome us in this world, this world is overcome, and as we cling to the cross, we will find Life and Light and Love Himself–clinging to us forevermore.