"Fine" or Hard-hearted?
Today was a beautiful, sunny Sunday here in Seattle. Everything on the outside was so pretty. I wore a dress. I put the kids in their Easter outfits for church because they didn't get to wear them last week. I stood on the sunny porch of the church building and caught up with several friends, and even said how I was really doing. We sang beautiful songs, and my baby played quietly during the sermon. A school friend who I really like came over for a playdate when we got home. I made a delicious dinner of artichoke with lemon butter, purple mashed potatoes with garlic, and Old Bay seasoned, pan-fried chicken legs. We watched an original StarTrek. Brendan built a fire while I bathed the baby, and then I watched the kids roast marshmallows. It was idyllic.
I spent a lot of the day in a kind of disbelief. How could a day go so well after the way things have been around here lately? How am I supposed to attempt to process crappy stuff when there is so much to delight in today? I breathed many sighs of relief, and then drew in the fresh, plum-blossom scented air as I marveled at the beauty in and around my home and in my family. But, I also felt like I was in Bizarro World. Is this trendy-outfitted body having a good hair day the same one that has had me in tears all week? Are these the children that had THAT fight and said THOSE things just yesterday? Is this affection I feel for my husband coming from the same heart that turns the cold shoulder? Why doesn't this messy room make me want to pull my hair out today like it did on Thursday?
It's becoming harder and harder for me to disbelieve that my POTS is on it's way back in, and it absolutely terrifies me. The things that are happening to my body are time-machine-level reminiscent of 3 years ago when I first started having strange symptoms. I even have a baby like I did then. I have a full schedule and commitments like I did then. While I was sick with the POTS for 2. 5 years, I learned how to pare things out of my life. It was painful, but we did manage to find a new equilibrium. Mostly, I became aware of how much I did that was really about people-pleasing and a messed-up view of God that included a deep fear that he was continually disappointed in me. Those were amazing things to learn and change. I was able to stop doing things that were just draining me, and I retained that skill. Sure, now that I have felt well again for 8 months, I have said "yes" to all kinds of foolish stuff that sounds great but is probably too much to sign up for with 4 young kids to love. But, mostly, I've enjoyed a wondrous time of saying "yes" to things because I could AND wanted to. That is a beautiful, beautiful combination.
Now I'm back at the beginning, the "what's happening to me?" phase. The dare to hope but find dread in the corners phase. And this time: I know too much. In many ways, it is a HUGE blessing to know what is (very most likely) wrong. I am not afraid that it's something that could take me from my kids. But, I know the ways that it does take me from my kids, and my friends, and my aspirations, and I find that so depressing. Having learned the word "no" (with basic fluency), I really have said "yes" to things I like a lot, and I will be so sad to begin to miss out on them if POTS gets back to the level it was at.
Here's another thing that's different now than last time it started: I am a lot better at being sad. My experience with POTS shook things up. God did not let one minute of my suffering go to waste. He has been with me and has opened my eyes to see him more clearly and trust him even more. He is patiently teaching me to hide in the nest, and I am feeling more and more comfortable there. My views of my own purpose and value greatly improved because I started to see how much I hated myself when I couldn't be "good enough." God loves me because he loves his Son, and I am hidden in him, not because I'm a very useful engine (just give me the Thomas reference; I had a 3 year old boy during all these revelations). I had been seeing every hard thing that happened as coming directly from God's hand to change me because I am just so darned screwed-up. I see it differently now. I think that God allows the pain of our sin (because I DO believe we are all screwed up), the painful results of other's sin, and the death at work in his creation to unfold (for now), and he protects us and stays with us and uses those things to cause his Kingdom to come in all of creation and in our own hearts. Yes, maybe he does directly ordain difficulty like a parent disciplining children he loves, but he doesn't rejoice in our sufferings or callously respond with "I told ya so" and "serves you right." He responded with the person and work of Jesus. As I heard in the sermon today at Green Lake Presbyterian Church, we are his treasure. He went to great lengths, the greatest length, for us, his people! He LOVES us, and so I don't get to think I'm useless.
I was feeling disappointed in myself this week. I felt like I "wasn't handling it well" that my POTS appears to be coming back. I felt that way because it was making me sad and scared. I do not want to be sad or scared. Those things feel bad, so instead of just feeling them, I'd prefer to look for the bright side or to just be a stoic badass. I'd prefer to focus on all I've learned and all there is still to glean. I give myself the impression that I can control my experience of it all if I can just control my attitude. But, that ain't the way. At least, it can't be ALL I do. I think there is a kind of deceptive hardness of heart that is, rather than bitter and spiky, shiny and strong. The firm decision to be "fine" is, for me, a way that my hard hardens. It's a cool glossiness that coats me. Sometimes it looks like survival mode. Sometimes it looks like being fake with people and myself. It's a way to try not to admit that I am sad and scared. But I need to let sad and scared do their work. I need to be like my daughter at night who falls out of bed and screams whole-heartedly "DADDY!!!" Sad and scared are what get you running to the nest!
So, I decided that it was probably a really good sign that I wasn't "handling it well" in the I'm-not-going-to-let-this-get-me-down sense. It is definitely my nature to look for the bright side, and it's a blessing to know that I will learn from all the bad experiences I will ever have. It IS important to have a good attitude, but here's what I learned about a good attitude: it includes a child-like perspective. It includes humility that admits when things just are too damn hard, too scary, and frustrating. When my kids are overwhelmed, it pains me to see them throw a huge fit. "Just ask me for help!" I say. But it is equally painful to me to see them behave like they are too cool to be upset because that behavior also leads them to miss out on my help. I want to be a child of God that doesn't fly to either extreme in response to my difficulties but, rather, immediately looks to him. I don't need to stop and wrestle with whether or not my performance is proper or even wonder if God is pleased with how I'm handling it. I just need to go straight to the nest, to let my hard-hearted desire to be FINE dissolve into tears of disappointment, and to trust that God knows what he is doing.
Now, having said ALL that, I have to tell you: I kind of do feel fine. I don't know that I'm ever going to be one that stays sad and scared very long. I yo-yo. And rather than thinking that means I'm out of touch with myself or my pain or something, I actually like it. God has given me a sunny disposition. I have to be careful to not use that skill to cover sadness that needs to be shown, but I also am allowed to enjoy it. Today felt so strange because part of me was mulling over all this "sad and scared" stuff while the rest of me felt so awake to the blessings and extravagant pleasures of the life God has given me. I need to look out for the desire to hurry through the hard stuff, but maybe there is also a case for the desire to just put it down for a minute.
There is SO MUCH freedom in Christ. We are free to look hard at the ugly, painful things and free to just roll in the grass. Today, I did a bit of both.
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart
which wonders to feel it's own hardness depart.
Dissolved by your goodness, I fall to the ground,
and weep to the praise of the mercy I've found.