Sneaky Grace

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We pay attention, listen, open our hearts. How could those be enough?...Everything slows down when we listen and stop trying to fix the unfixable. We end up looking into other people’s eyes, and see the desperation, or let them see ours. This connection slips past the armor like water past stones. Being slow and softened, even for a few minutes or seconds, gives sneaky grace the chance to enter.
— Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway

"A Tiny Poem on Pain"
by Ginger Friesen

Pain is a window,
Pain is a seed,
Pain is new glasses,
Pain is me freed.

I was blindsided by pain a week ago, and all I can think to trace its beginnings to was holding Sailor in the receiving line of my Great-Uncle's visitation. I noticed my side starting to hurt as I held Sailor for close to an hour that day, but it wasn't until a few days later that I acknowledged the reality of pain. Oh so quickly my mind returned to those 3+ years in Orlando when I lived with chronic hip pain. Hardly anyone in my life now knows of those years during which pain became my identity. And hardly anyone knows that Bauer's birth twelve and a half years ago was the miracle that saved me. I would take that epidural again any day.

That pain was a demon that I couldn't chase away, no matter how badly I wanted to. I learned to live with it, and find a rhythm of life that made room for it. And this week, I've found myself already learning to make room for this new pain, which is eerily similar to what I had all those years ago. 

My mind is like a top, spinning with questions for which the answers do not readily come. What did I do to make this pain start? What do I do to make it stop? Is it inflammation? Is it from food? Is it from skiing? Will it prevent further skiing? Will it last a week? A year? A lifetime? Will this season be clouded, or possibly enhanced, by this experience? And is there grace in this pain that I couldn't get to any other way? 

All I know to do is make acceptance the assignment and let my friends help me. TJ has assured me I am not on my own. I envision a bright future without pain, but for now I let myself sit in the pain and think about a quote I came across just the other day in a book I was skimming: 

Pain happens in the flesh. Suffering, on the other hand, happens in the mind.
— Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

Ever so gently, I am somehow being buoyed along without a workout since the pain intensified to a new level on Sunday. Taking a walk is how I rid myself of almost all mental and emotional pain of life, but not this time. My body is not letting me go take a walk or a run or even jump on my trampoline without pain. Let's just call two days of rest in a row a miracle in its own rights, and I am finally open to whatever miracle shows up. My body is saying to rest, and surprisingly, I am listening. More surprisingly, I am not panicked. Yet. How can this be? That is the "sneaky grace" part. That is the part of pain that I couldn't have bargained for had I tried. It's as if the spell of control has been broken, maybe for an hour or a day, but I'll take it. I am still here, breathing. 

I woke up this morning after an awful night of pain, and thought, I'm still here. I don't have to go for a walk today, and I'm still here. I don't have to keep my usual pace of kitchen work, and I'm still here. I don't have to do anything to earn the privilege to say, I'm still here.

What a view of the world pain can give us. What a view of old people. What a view of the kids running in the yard, pain-free. What a view of those with worse pains. What a view of all the other reasons to be grateful. Like I said, I'm still here. And like Anne Lamott said, I'm "being slow and softened."

I met my friend Phyllis at Tandem this morning, not knowing that Tandem could also be a doctor's office. That's the thing Annie has taught me about having friends. They can bring healing to us in any place, at any time, when they listen and when they share their stories with us. Phyl's story intersected with my story this morning and I was paying attention in a way that perhaps only pain allows. I was not anticipating the transfer of medical advice, but I would be a fool to say no to "sneaky grace" pulling up a chair and sitting at the table in Tandem with us. 

When I came out of Tandem, I had a voicemail with prayer and encouragement from my friend Janna, and that was medicine on top of medicine. As if that were not enough, my friend Ashley took it on herself to research what essential oils might help my pain and is making a roll-on of oils to give to me. I will not say no to oils or ointment or anointing or anything else that "sneaky grace" wants to bring my way. Only a few friends have heard me speak of this pain in the last week, and their voices have spoken back to me with all kindness and sincerity to offer solidarity and hope.


I am seeing my girls through new eyes this week as I have had to slow down and watch what will grow from these seeds of pain. I am seeing the lake in a new way, waterskiing not as payment on demand, but privilege on offer only as the Lord sees fit. I am seeing walking up and down stairs differently. I am seeing breakfast at Tandem as a doctor's office. I am seeing Janna's prayers as precious, and Ashley's oils as essential, not because they represent healing as much as because they represent the fact that I am not on my own. I am seeing the brevity of life, the fragility of life, the miracle of life, the mystery of life. 

God doesn’t give us answers. God gives us grace and mercy. God gives us Her own self. Left to my own devices, I would prefer answers. This is why it is good that I am in charge of so little: the pets, the shopping, the garden.
— Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway

I am seeing, as if for the very first time, that being in charge of so little might be the whole point of life. I get to rest and be held. I get to receive love and care. I get to be slow and surrounded. I have friends to pray, a husband to be strong for me, pages of quotes to sustain me, this pain to soften me and set me free, and "sneaky grace" to thank for all of it.