Three weeks to the day after my dad was killed, I look down in the shower to find another electrode sticker from my heart cardiogram unexpectedly floating at my feet.
“How can a heart that’s been cracked open ever have closure?”
I had already staggered through more than two weeks of this blur of nauseating trauma after Dad had been found crushed under the wheel of a tractor tire, had sat through these surreal matter-of-fact interviews of a police investigation, had played and replayed conversations and events and the last few months in pain-staking slow motion, when, on a Saturday morning phone call with my brother and sister, processing the nightmarish confusion of the previous week, I had spiked a fever of 103.5, my joints, from my every knuckle down to the joints in my little toes, burn-ached like they were on fire, and I couldn’t stop the chills and my teeth from chattering with this feverish cold.
As we’re currently weathering through the demoralizing isolation of our third lockdown and strict stay at home orders, with all borders closed, due to a global pandemic and local COVID case numbers, had I somehow still contracted COVID in the aftermath of police and first responders and sympathetic neighbors with bowls of chili after Dad was killed?
“But it’s almost like she’s in sepsis?” my sister’s stroking my hand, asking the ER doctor.
“Honestly, though — what can it be in a pandemic but Covid?” I ask through clattering teeth, pulling my blanket up around ears, like I can find warmth that I haven’t been able to find since I stood all day out in the rain on my childhood farm, waiting for my Dad’s body to be released from the scene.
“Well, the truth is: You could be sick with about a million other things,” a technician’s sticking electrodes across my chest, prepping me for an echocardiogram. Had the ER doctor seen in my file that unexpected record of my heart failure from a few years back?
“Maybe non-closure is the way to stay open to really living: Suffering cracks opens the heart to tenderly see and truly stand with the ache of all humans.”
Maybe that is what has spiked my fever, ignited my joints on fire, elevated my white blood cell count, made my body rage with ache:
My heart is broken that my Dad was killed in the very same farmyard as my little sister, both of them crushed to death in the very same way, underneath moving tires.
My heart is broken for the same violent trauma that’s haunting our stunned and bruised family all over again, like a black stalking dog that we somehow can’t shake.
My heart is broken over the fact that now my body seems to be breaking down in an inferno of feverish pain and I want the trauma for my kids, for my mama, to stop, I want the drama in my story to stop, I want this story to turn a page and this story to turn around and all our heartbreak to be overturned.
But what I don’t want is closure.
“Suffering lets the soul see — see the deep suffering around us, see the deep suffering within us, see the suffering Savior who deeply absorbs all suffering, and carries us Home where there is no suffering for evermore.”
Because the truth is: How can a heart that’s been cracked open ever have closure?
Maybe non-closure is the way to stay open to really living: Suffering cracks opens the heart to tenderly see and truly stand with the ache of all humans.
Suffering lets the soul see — see the deep suffering around us, see the deep suffering within us, see the suffering Savior who deeply absorbs all suffering, and carries us Home where there is no suffering for evermore.
“Meningitis — that’s our current working hypothesis,” is what the ER doctor comes back with after my cardiogram results come back. The membranes covering my brain, my spinal cord, are swelling with some kind of infection? Why in the world is all this heartache happening and how do you make the pain stop?
I roll over slowly toward the IV pole and try to keep telling myself this:
Suffering doesn’t mean you’re cursed, suffering means you’re human.
Regardless of what Instagram or all the glossy ads are shilling:
All your suffering isn’t some unique anomaly, suffering is the universal experience of all humanity.
The question isn’t “Why is there brokenness and suffering in my life?” — but “Why wouldn’t there be suffering because such is life in a broken world?”
Buy the lie that your life is supposed to be heaven on earth, and suffering can be a torturous hell. But accept and expect that life is a battle, then suffering isn’t a problem but part of earth’s topography to cross on our way to heaven.
“Suffering doesn’t mean you’re cursed, suffering means you’re human.”
I don’t know what time I get rolled out of ER and into a cranial CT scan, but it is after hours of IV antibiotics dripping into my fiery veins, trying to extinguish this inner ball of flames I’m sweating out my pores. I try to stifle my teeth chattering as the CT machine spins and whirls around my head like some physics-bending, time travel machine that can catapult me out of this story. Beam me up and out of here, doc.
I close my eyes.
There is no point trying to question suffering, the point is how are you going to answer suffering.
The question never is if you understand the why of your suffering — and the answer always is how are you going to stand up and walk through your suffering.
You don’t have to know the reason for your suffering — you only have to know your response through the suffering.
I tell myself this as I grip the steel bed rail and the doctor prepares the needles to puncture the bottom of my spine and draw out fluid from the base of my spine to send to the lab to test for bacterial meningitis. As she draws the needle in and out of my spine this is how I comfort myself, this is my answer to all the suffering:
Keep fighting your story and you will keep losing the plot. Surrender to the Author, the Word, and He will keep you.
“The question never is if you understand the why of your suffering — and the answer always is how are you going to stand up and walk through your suffering.”
The suffering isn’t meant to drive you away from God, but it can drive you to the only place in the cosmos that is ultimately safe: His open arms.
No suffering can sever us from the tenderness of Jesus who suffers with us.
“Just don’t move, as I move in and out of your spine here to fill this vial,” the doctor is bent over the base of my bare spine, and this has to be my response to suffering: Surrender.
Surrender and bravely open your arms cruciform and welcome whatever comes.
Our openhanded welcome
to whatever comes
invites healing wellness to come.
Surrender to His Story and welcome the Author Himself and whatever Word He brings. Wellness comes as we welcome the Word and whatever line He writes into our story.
This is the only response to suffering that doesn’t cause more suffering.
God’s promises never claim we won’t be afflicted; He promises we will never be evicted from God’s presence.
This is always enough. I wrap this comfort around myself when my aching heart forgets again and again.
“God’s promises never claim we won’t be afflicted; He promises we will never be evicted from God’s presence. ”
There will be 2 CT scans, that lumbar puncture, an echocardiogram, chest x-rays, 2 rounds of bloodwork, a negative COVID test, IV antibiotics, and another visit back to ER for more IV antibiotics, but that fever, elevated white blood cell count, and mysteriously spiked CRP level, will only indicate a bacterial infection, but give no clues to the mysterious source.
There will be a 10 day course of 8 antibiotic tablets, 4 times a day at home, there will be laying out on the grass in the orchard with the sheep and the hens, staring at the sky and waiting for strength to return to my wrung out body, there will be follow-up doctor appointments, and this long head and heart fog of trauma and grief, and there will still be the long waiting for the report from the police to understand how Dad was killed.
And there will be sunrise and sunset without my Dad here and I will try not to panic or feel utterly swept away by waves of abandonment.
But there will be this too, there will be that one word that found me at the beginning of the year, my word for this year that I didn’t know how I would need: Hope.
“Hope is an actual noun, hope is a concrete reality that we hold in hand, a reality that we can put both of our hands around and feel it hold us, steady us.”
I will stare at the sky and believe: Hope is more than a verb, hope is more than some crazy thing that we do, more than this brazen, defiant act of groping and grasping in the dark.
Hope is an actual noun, hope is a concrete reality that we hold in hand, a reality that we can put both of our hands around and feel it hold us, steady us.
“We who have run for our very lives to God, have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go” (Hebrews 6:19 MSG).
That morning three weeks after Dad is killed, I will lean over and pick it up there at my feet, that electrode sticker from my echocardiogram and my broken heart will beat it out sure and loud through the open cracks:
If your feet have run to God, now, with both hands, grab hold of hope.
Pick up our story of The Broken Way and in a broken world, with a whole bunch of broken dreams and busted plans — discover the way through a brokenhearted world.
This one’s for the brave and the busted and the real and dreamers and the sufferers and the believers — and the ones who desperately need real hope.