What I’ve Found In The Darkness

I thought she came for my soul; like an owl scanning the forest floor for it’s unknowing prey; or a monster creeping in with the cover of night, searching for someone to devour. I wondered if she could be a curse or a cruel test of faith; like Job from the Old Testament.-loss and pain and heartache. But it turns out she was none of those things. She, Chronic Lyme disease, was actually a messenger.

She walks everyday holding her husband’s hand. He clinging to her, she reaching for the thoughts she used to hold. She doesn’t know where her memories went, and some days she forgets they’re forgotten, but she still keep her eyes peeled for a hint of the days that used to be.

He screams in the night as his cells attack his body. His joints are swollen and hot to the touch. He wants you to rub his legs for some kind of relief, but even your gentle touch makes him scream and swat you away. He begs you to make it stop. He doesn’t stop begging. The only relief he feels is when lowered into a bath of very warm water. His legs are submerged, floating in something that touches, but never causes pain. He’s lifted from the bath and the battle in his cells picks up again. He endures a painful shot in his hip while his mother holds him against her body. He’s screaming “NO!”, but the sweet relief shortly after the injection allows him to finally rest.

Her belly is swollen and she can’t catch her breath. You’d think she was pregnant, but it’s only a side effect of the chemo. A swollen belly is only one part of her that is swimming in inflammation. Her arms and legs are shiny and red and none of her clothes fit. It’s hard to walk, hard to sit, hard to be. Eight months ago she didn’t know this pain. Eight months ago she didn’t have cancer. Now, as she’s fighting for her life, she sits as far up as her belly will allow and plays cards with her nephews on her hospital bed. She needs to make the most of the days she has left.

She had a few health related issues as a child, but for the most part she was healthy as a horse. She was captain of her high school cheerleading squad, head Paramedic on her bus, and trampoline jumper extraordinaire. She once even outsmarted a woman with a gun held only inches from her face! She was a badass. But with the arrival of her first child also came an array of serious medical problems. Extreme exhaustion, chronic pain, tremors, shaking, anxiety, depression, and so much more. It took the doctors over 20 years to diagnose her and another 11 to really get to the bottom of her illness. Now 31 years later, she lives with over 10 very serious autoimmune disorders. She’s still a badass, maybe even more of one now that she has learned to keep going under the most strenuous of diagnoses. She never gives up and she never surrenders to her disease, only her God.

These are pains I couldn’t fully understand 2 years ago. But now….

I remember the neighbor woman when I forget my words in mid sentence, having to apologize to my friends that I don’t know what I was trying to say. Or when I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person looking back at me.

I remember the boy who beat me and then reached for me in the night crying, “Mama, make it stop! Make it stop!” as I lower my aching body into an Epsom salt bath for the 6th time that week. And as I lay in bed begging the Lord to just make it stop, I remember his violent screams in my ear as I held him against my chest and shouted at the ceiling, “DO SOMETHING!!!”.

I remember the girl who sat on her hospital bed playing with her nephews only days before she passed away. Every time I see my swollen belly or face, I picture her smile, read her favorite passage of scripture, and I remember her fight that was grounded in faith and ended in our promise of eternal healing.

And every time I think I will never get my life back again, never accomplish anything worthwhile, I remember the woman who has survived more pain, more sickness, and more abuse than any one human should be able to endure, yet continues to push and fight to pursue truth and righteousness for the sake of the gospel and the sake of the hearts who do not yet know Him.

I thought Chronic Lyme Disease came only to destroy, but I was wrong. Chronic Lyme did come to change my life, but only in the best possible ways. I needed to feel the pain of others. I needed to understand the despair many face on a daily basis. After all, how can my love be empathetically deep if I do not fully understand the pain God’s children are going through?

And I needed a reminder that faith is not built on dreams, plans, or even prayers. And it’s definitely not built on a hope for remission! My hope must be built on nothing other than Jesus, the God Man who willfully experienced the pain of others so that He could better understand the Father’s children and set us free.

There could be many reasons why I have become so ill, or there could be no rhyme or reason, but while I slowly walk this race of sickness, I choose to remember the faces of the ones I have loved, who have suffered unimaginable pain, and yet still carry on.

Not My Perfume

I started wearing the scent when I was about 14. It was popular and lovely and made me feel older than I really was. And after wearing it for years, the smell, self-labeled “Heavenly”, began to carry and hold it’s own memories. With two sprays I was in the backyard with my best friend from childhood who once carried all my secrets. I could breathe slow and deep and hear the Dixie Chicks sing a throaty melody about wide-open spaces and nights under the stars with a bright-eyed cowboy. I could close my eyes and settle into the thoughts of big moments on both ends of my emotional scale: high-end joy and life-altering trauma.

And eventually, after years of spritzing my neck and wrists with the same bottle of secrets, I realized it had become a habit of self-inflicted bondage instead of a natural feminine moment. This act, that tends to be quite normal for many men and women, had developed into a daily routine of living in the past.

It wasn’t until this spring, while on a very unexpected home assignment, that I realized what I was doing. I was headed into town for a dreaded Wal-Mart trip, fighting an extremely heavy headache for the third day in a row. The day before I had a feeling that my headaches were related to my perfume, but I didn’t want to admit it yet. I wasn’t ready to let go of the scent that carried me to far off places. But I was only one block into my drive to town when I was hit with an idea, a thought, that I couldn’t shake. At the entrance of my parent’s subdivision is a small, gated, upward slope holding some of the oldest gravesites in town and as I stopped for traffic, I made a connection between my headache, my perfume, and the finality of the cemetery outside my driver’s window. I gazed at the grey, broken, cement markers for people long past gone and all I could ask myself in that moment was, “Meg, do you even like your perfume?” 

That may seem like a strange question to ask right then, but after staring at the final resting places of so many once loved men and women, I couldn’t help but wonder why I clung to something so superficial when our lives, in the end, are so short. I realized I used to love the sweet, angelic scent, but now? That just wasn’t true anymore.

“Then why are you wearing it?” ……I thought.

Why was I wearing the perfume? Why was I allowing this trivial, first world beauty product to bring pain to my head and strife to my heart? Why couldn’t I let go of this fleeting, sensory appeasing product that represented not who I am, but who I was? By refusing to let go of a decade long, daily tradition was I disassociating from things in my past that I honestly needed to process through and release? Why couldn’t I accept that the perfume was the cause of my headaches? My answers weren’t positive.

Because I’ve always worn it. Because it’s a part of who I present myself to be. Because it reminds me of days long gone and of important people from the past. Because there’s a boy out there who still likes the smell of my skin when I wear it. Because the name itself symbolizes the very thing I think I have to be: perfect. Because…..what happens if I start wearing something else? What happens if I let go? What happens… if I change?…

I haven’t used the perfume since that day by the cemetery. In fact, I threw the entire bottle in the trash. And the next week I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the essential oil and natural perfume aisle of the health food store with my mother picking a new scent. I picked one that had nothing to do with anything or anyone in my past and I picked one that felt more like “me”. I picked a perfume that, to me, symbolized a strong, feminine woman who strives to be quiet and submissive yet loud and untamed. A woman who longs to have a heart of discernment, feet of beautiful fortitude, arms of empathy, hands of grace, a tongue of kindness, eyes filtered in peace and a mind founded in truth. That may seem like a lot of pressure for just one bottle of roll-on perfume. But to me, it was a personal statement. It was a way to let go and embrace positive change.

I don’t wear the old perfume anymore because, quite frankly, the girl who wore it isn’t the woman I want to be. She was a girl drowning in unattainable perfection and hidden hurts. A girl unable to participate in authentic, raw conversation, hiding behind biblical band-aids and lofty pedestals. That girl, while just as precious and vital to the Lord, is no longer who I am. So it’s not my perfume. It’s hers. And I gladly gave it back to her.

Sometimes, many times, we must let go of the past, in order to grab hold of the future. We must release ourselves from our own handcuffs, and allow ourselves to be who we are today. And then we must refuse to accept the guilt that can come after letting go.

Maybe this seems simple or silly to some of you who have already moved forward from things long past, but for those of you who still wear the trapping scent that brings pain and sorrow, I encourage you today to throw it out.

Because, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Women, we’re not who we once were. And even if you feel like you are and you don’t want to be, read that verse again. Throw it off, toss it out, and run hard after Jesus. With Him is where you’ll find the person you want to be. And maybe even your own perfume. I know I did.