So I’ve been pretty stressed lately. There was already a foundation for being stressed — being unemployed, trying to find a publisher for my novel, figuring out what to do with my time, overweight, on the outside of the institutional church. When I had a little three-week temp job for the local bus utility, they had one of those posters in the office that listed different stressful events and how many “Life Change Units” they contained; if you had 300 LCUs in the previous twelve months, you qualified as “highly stressed.” Back then, I was at 293, just shy of the top level.
Since then (and you can read all of this in my previous entries, if you really want all the details), I’ve added some minor health troubles: bad ankles getting worse, intestinal troubles, bifocals that I’m still getting used to. Then I began finding more about my mom’s health problems, which barring a drastic change look like they’ll be fatal in the fairly short term. At the same time, what little relationship I have with my dad got even worse, which I would previously have said was impossible. And it’s summer, so the Supermodel and I are both home most of the time, getting in each other’s hair and on each other’s nerves — not trying too, it’s just too much personality in too little space for too many hours.
I don’t know how many Life Change Units I’ve piled up at this point — something in the thousands, I guess. I’m holding it together, not acting out or screaming at people … much. I’m doing the best I can, but I desperately need a success at this stage. So what do you figure happens next?
Try having a child falling seriously ill. AND car trouble, too.
I wish I were making this up. But I couldn’t even if I wanted to — if it were a novel, I’d think the plot was too contrived, too stacked against the protagonist, and I’d return it to the library. But I can’t; it’s my life.
Friday morning, the day after my family’s trip to see my in-laws in San Jose, my son was a bit lethargic. He wasn’t as active as usual, not as happy — and he is in general a very positive kid. We thought it had something to do with him working on his potty-training … but on Saturday he was barely able to do anything, and we started thinking he was dehydrated. But no amount of liquid seemed to help, and by Sunday he wasn’t eating and was having trouble walking. We have no idea what’s going on, and the walking problems have us wondering if it’s the onset of CMT, since the Supermodel’s difficulties with CMT began when she was about his age. So now we’re scared.
Monday, we call Children’s Health Services (his pediatrician, more or less) and they suggest taking him to the emergency room, which I did. We spent over six hours in the ER, and the staff there went out of their way to be unhelpful and made us feel like ungrateful jerks for impinging on their time. The only positive things they did were to give my son an IV and run some blood tests, and from that guessed that he probably had a viral imfection. (And I do mean “guessed” — the doctor even used that word!) My mom is an ex-nurse, and when I told her about what happened, she said that she would have given the ER nurse a serious chewing-out for her ineptitude and callousness. We came home late that afternoon, he and I, back at square one.
Tuesday, things hit bottom. The Supermodel had an all-day training session at the county office of education, so I had both kids the whole day. My son still wasn’t eating, and a therapeutic bath my mom had suggested was a fiasco, since he couldn’t hold himself up. (At least, I think he couldn’t. My son is a passive sort by temperament, rarely doing more than he has to, so often it’s impossible to tell when he actually can’t do something and when he just isn’t. He’s sick, so I have to assume it’s “can’t” — but he’s pulled stunts before when he’s had colds and whatnot, so there’s a seed of doubt.) I did my best to take care of him, but it was all I could do to get him to drink his Pedialyte and keep my frustration in check at the same time. My arms were killing me from having to carry, haul or readjust forty pounds of limp boy the whole day, and since stress always seems to go to my feet, I was actually limping, on ankles that wouldn’t unkink.
When my wife came home, I explained the situation to her … and fled, hiding in the office for the rest of that day and much of the next. When I emerged yesterday afternoon, it was to run some errands and do a little reading/relaxation at a local library (trying to get my head screwed back on straight). And I almost couldn’t do that because the car started to overheat, on a day when the temperature didn’t hit 90F (32C). One more thing on top of all the rest.
You’ll be glad to know that thanks solely to the Supermodel, a nurturer of children par excellence, my son is beginning to recover. His appetite is slowly returning, he’s taking a few steps at a time, and we’re pretty hopeful that it was just a particularly nasty viral infection and he’ll be back to his old self in a few days. (As his big sister put it, “I miss the old annoying boy!”) And putting an extra quart of antifreeze mixture into the car’s coolant bottle seems to have settled it down, though I plan to have the coolant system flushed when I go in for an oil change later this month. But in the meantime, I still have me to deal with, and so does my family.
It’s a scary thing to look into the mirror and realize that the person least fit to take care of your son at that exact second is the person staring back at you. If you know of a moment more humiliating, more heart-wrenching that doesn’t involve law enforcement, don’t tell me about it, I don’t want to know. That’s where I was Tuesday night, and that’s why I haven’t written this week until now. I literally couldn’t string words together in my head, I was so shattered. I had nothing left — I was in roughly the same shape spiritually as my boy was physically. It’s still bad enough today that I’ve gone back to hiding out, knowing that my tank is on empty and I have little good to offer my family right now, so the best thing I can do is not give them anything bad.
And there’s no simple plan of recovery. It’s easy to say “give it all up to God,” but there’s no step-by-step way to actually do that. I’ve been working on learning how for two decades, so believe me when I say that “giving it all up to God” is not, by itself, any kind of solution for anything. There is a lot more to it than that. Plus, it may be God’s will that everything is happening as it is, because of something He’s doing for His glory and our benefit, and He isn’t about to let us short-circuit it. I’m not going to stop believing in Jesus and what He’s done and will do for us, not now, not ever. But here and now, in my own so-called life, worrying sick about my son and knowing I can’t help him much right now, preparing to lose my mom, dealing with everything else that’s occurring, a blithe surrender isn’t gonna get me through this.
What will? I’m not sure, but I think I have a hint. Last night, I was reading to the Supermodel before she fell asleep, something I’ve done on and off since we married. And I’m reading William Paul Young’s The Shack.
(As an aside, I think The Shack is a very good book. It may be a sermon with a plot, but it’s probably the best sermon-with-a-plot I’ve ever read, and that includes classics like Hinds’ Feet on High Places and Pilgrim’s Progress. There are those who say it contains heretical doctrines, and all I can say to those people is that they must’ve been reading a different book, because while I find many things in it that go against church tradition, I have found nothing that goes against Scripture. (And I’ve looked, carefully.) If you want to argue about its contents, you’re at the wrong blog. I would recommend it to anyone who wants their relationship with God to grow closer and stronger. Back to the topic at hand.)
If you don’t know the basic plot of The Shack, it’s about a man whose young daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer while he and his family are on a camping trip in the Oregon forest. Years later, he gets a note from God, asking him to meet with Him at the “scene of the crime,” an abandoned shack high in the mountains. While there, God reveals Himself to the man in some very surprising ways, and in all three persons of the Trinity, to help him recover from this great sadness in his life and see God’s great love for both him and his dead daughter.
While reading it aloud last night, something struck me. I’ve reviewed and re-reviewed the pages I read yesterday, and I can’t find one single passage that brought this to mind. I think it was more of a cumulative effect from several spots in the book, finally tying together in my head. But these few sentences were (I believe) the trigger. Jesus and Mack, the main character, are talking as they walk across (yes, I said across) a lake. Mack has just seen his daughter, alive, safe and cared for by God (a vision?) and asks Jesus why He hadn’t told him about her earlier. This is Jesus’ response:
“Don’t think we didn’t try. Have you noticed that in your pain you assume the worst of me? I’ve been talking to you for a long time, but today was the first time you could hear it …”
And as I read that, a conversation began taking place in my head — not in words per se, but let me translate it so you can follow. I’m the one in plain type; you can guess whose voice is in boldface …
Of course, God was taking care of little Missy all along — even dying, she was in God’s arms, and still is now …
So what about your son? Do you believe I love him too? Do you think I would have anything but the best for him?
And what about your mother? And your wife? For that matter, what about you? Do you think I love you any less than the fictional Me loves the fictional people in this story you’re reading?
Ah, no. I, er, I mean, of course not. Of course you love my son, and my family, and … and, uh, me.
But do you really believe that? Do you live like you believe that?
If I believe He loves totally and purely, faith isn’t unnecessary — it’s simply so automatic that it never needs mentioning. Questioning it would be as silly as testing each gulp of air before we breathe it. And yet, how often do we go through life, one shuddering breath at a time, never getting all the spiritual oxygen we need because we’re afraid of what the next inhalation might bring? How often do we pass out because we’d rather live with the fear we already know than take the chance on what might be floating in the atmosphere? And yet God’s love is as present as the air we breathe.
But we don’t always act like it. I don’t always act like it. And so I get stressed, not because I haven’t surrendered it to God — usually I have, many times over — but because I haven’t reached the point where surrender isn’t needed, since my hands are open to give to God, and receive from Him, at all times. Letting go is easy, just like Mark Twain’s joke about quitting smoking (“I’ve done it a hundred times”). Where I need to be — and you, too, if you’re not already there — is the place where I don’t grab hold again, because I know deeper than I know anything else that Love loves me, and holding on only gets in the way of that Love.
That’s where I want to head toward. I’ve got some good guides to show me the way: the Holy Spirit, my mom, the Supermodel, even my kids. And I’m more likely to remember that the place exists now (without a goal, it’s impossible to keep going). It’s just a matter of heading there, one day, one moment after the next. Learning to be loved and to love, and not being passive about it, but continuing to seek more, to follow those notes God leaves in my mailbox. And to remember that God has promised I will get there — not while I’m on earth, but I’ll get there nonetheless.
Now, if you’ll excuse me … if my son’s awake, I’m going to go give him a hug.