Healing What You Can't Erase
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
—C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Think back to the day when it
happened. What is it
? Maybe the ugly divorce. The cancer diagnosis. The far-too-early death of a loved one. The betrayal of trust in a relationship. The indescribable and unidentifiable weight of defeat that keeps you from moving forward in life. The slow and steady buzz of anxiety that has been with you for so long that you wouldn’t even recognize Monday morning without it. Waking up in physical pain for the umpteenth day in a row, exacerbated by fear and anxiety that cloud your view of a hope-filled future . . . or perhaps, just for once, a pain-free afternoon.
Or how about the chatterbox of taunts that greet you every morning before your feet hit the floor? You talk too much. You’re not taken seriously. You’re too sensitive. You’re too needy. You’re never going to heal, so you might as well give up now. Your spouse is going to cheat on you. Your children are in constant danger. It’s too late. No one really wants to be your friend. You’re not good enough. You don’t have what it takes.
It’s tormenting, isn’t it? For a lot of us, we are languishing, and anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion, and cynicism are the norm, even though their presence in our lives is anything but normal. And the scariest part? We’ve endured those feelings and internal indictments for so long that we don’t even know when they first showed up on our doorsteps.
That was my story.
The details I’m about to share are as raw as they are honest. But I’m beginning our relationship here because I want you to know right off the bat that you aren’t alone in your pain and loss, even though I’m sure it feels like you are. I also realize that it’s hard to step into someone else’s trauma while walking through your own. And for that reason, I want to reassure you that, as you go through this book, you won’t walk alone as you chart your path to wholeness either—the wholeness available only through the ongoing process of transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. I pray that you’ll learn from my experiences in both pain and healing. No doubt, I have plenty of scars. I’m sure you do too. But those scars tell a very personal story. And that
story begins right now. The Nightmare on Our Street
Autumn had settled on the Midwest, and despite our reputation for brutal winters, this time of year was absolutely breathtaking. It was Saturday, November 3, 2012, and at a glance, you’d think it was going to be a picture-perfect day. Though the morning temperature was in the low forties, the sun was rising on the dew-covered grass, and the crisp air seemed to awaken the neighborhood in unison. Our family’s quaint quad-level home, where we had lived for seventeen years, sat on the corner lot. Within its walls, Mom and Pops had hosted high school graduation parties, birthday celebrations, Thanksgiving dinners, and memorable get-togethers. And in the home office where my parents operated their professional counseling practice with precious care, marriages had been restored and many lives—young and old—given focus, compassion, challenge, and empowerment. To this day, when I envision a place of peace and rest, it’s that house. The literal blood, sweat, tears, laughs, and sacrifices that built and rebuilt that house from the inside out made it our haven. It wasn’t elaborate by any stretch, nor was it perfect, but it was perfectly ours.
Just across the street on that November morning, the sun’s reflection shone on the tiny lake. The fiery colors of autumn blanketed the trees in the background. Trust me when I tell you that you haven’t seen beauty until you’ve been to Michigan in the fall. If you don’t believe me, book a trip here and witness it for yourself.
As I stepped off our front porch to go for a quick walk, our neighbor Lynn, with coffee in hand, sauntered to the edge of her driveway to retrieve the newspaper and waved in my direction. “Morning, Chris!” she exclaimed.
Have you ever been so deep in thought that you don’t even hear someone talking to you? This was one of those times.
“Chris! Mornin’, honey,” she called in her soft, quintessential midwestern tone.
I waved back. “Morning, Lynn. Hope you and Tom have a good day.” Truth be told, I wasn’t lost inside my mind. I was drowning
there. Allow me to explain.
That particular Saturday was my birthday, and it became the third-worst day of my life. You see, four weeks earlier, doctors had sent my mom home without any further medical recourse. At the age of fifty-five, she was fighting for her life after a nearly two-decade battle with multiple myeloma, a rare, medically incurable form of cancer. With tears in her eyes, my mom’s oncologist placed her into hospice care—the very organization for which Mom was once the bereavement coordinator. If you’re unfamiliar, when someone is placed on hospice, death has been declared imminent.
Despite this prognosis, our family was relentless in our pursuit of healing. Sobered by the medical facts, we were equally anchored in and focused on the truth of the Scriptures: Our God is a healer. We were tired, but we weren’t giving up hope for a miracle. People had told us to stop playing “the faith game” and instead face the facts. But this was no game.
Through weeks of sleepless nights and tear-filled days, we poured ourselves into her care, often ignoring our own needs to provide for her in the most personal and intimate ways while protecting her dignity. Because Pops—hero that he is—worked three jobs for nearly twenty years to keep the family out of medical debt, my sister and I were on rotation, sleeping in our parents’ bed to cover the arduous night shift with Mom. Our love was stronger than any embarrassment or shame at her total dependency, because her worth, value, dignity, and beauty were not clouded by the terrible disease destroying her outer shell.
Though Mom could barely speak or even keep her eyes open, multiple myeloma was not her identity. She
was not cancer. And that’s why I was internally distracted when Lynn called my name that morning. I was hoping that when I got home from my walk, somehow life would be good again. That all of this would be a bad dream. But it wasn’t. I hated that day. I hated
When I returned fifteen or twenty minutes later, I went upstairs to tend to Mom, who was barely conscious. I asked her, “Momma, do you know what today is?” She shook her head no. “It’s my birthday! Do you know how old I am today?”
She whimpered, “A hundred and thirty-five?”
She wasn’t trying to be playful, though her gregarious Italian personality, now absent, was my favorite part about her. She was in and out of a comatose state. I kissed her on the cheek and left the room for a moment, heading toward the bathroom as a flood of tears fell down my cheeks. I leaned into the sink and dropped my head. How can this be real?
I turned on the faucet and splashed some cool water on my face.
That night, my sister and a few close friends took me to my favorite sushi restaurant for dinner. They sang “Happy Birthday,” but I didn’t hear anything. I could barely stomach my food. When I caught my sister’s eyes a few times during the meal, I noticed she lifted a soft smile toward me, but I saw the shared exhaustion in her countenance.