UPDATE: A “Powerport” central venous catheter was implanted on Friday – exactly 3 weeks after my first cycle. I begin my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday, April 21. Then it’s two down, four to go. Timmy has been rocked on his heels – but he still has fight in him.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. Job 2:7-8
Some of you may remember getting chickenpox as a child (before the invention of the inoculation). I remember getting it. It was hot, prickly – and though I was told not to scratch, I did. Everyone does. I recall sitting on the floor – no kidding – with a bowl of water and a toothbrush as a means of allaying the itchiness. Did it help – a guess it did.
Of late, I've experienced an inflaming itch. I’m not sure which is the cause of the splotchy, itchy skin rash that covers my chest and neck: the lingering effects of an allergic reaction to the adhesive bandage (which caused the removal of my PICC line or the high dosage of antibiotics or effects of chemotherapy – a combination? All I know is that my chest looks like I took a roll in poison ivy. A bit like Job of old (see above), I try to scrape away at my misery. It’s hard to sleep, I wake long enough to get some Benedryl and slather some more topical ointment. Add to that, my hair loss had made my bowling ball of a head look like an obtuse, pale, kiwi-fruit – short, tiny hairs poking out of the skin.
What a pathetic creature I must look like? A kiwi fruit with arms trying desperately not to scratch itself, but failing. I complain about it to Olivia and Brenda. I bother my doctor. And I realized it has happened: I’m feeling sorry for myself.
And then I realized: Ah! This is my chance! I can learn from this!
But I needed a guide in praying about this. Ah, that book! Kim Wiggins, Roswell’s own famous artist and my good friend lent me a book of his: “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ” by Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon.
“Dear reader,” she wrote, “there is nothing in this universe that is easier to obtain than the enjoyment of Jesus Christ! Your Lord is more present to you that you are to yourself! Furthermore, His desire to give Himself to you is greater than your desire to lay hold of Him.”
And that was enough for me. I’m still eating up the book – a chapter a day. But I’m learning with each itch to make it a prayer, “Gentle Jesus, help me to look to you and find in you my satisfaction. Help me not resign to sit in the ashes of my unmet expectations, scraping away the rot of the world with the only gift it can give me: a broken piece of earthenware.”
And He is there.
I give thanks for the itch and rash. It drives me to pray. It forces me to wonder: what is the “itch” that the world wants me to scratch at – that I must refuse? Is it to purchase things I do not need? Rant at things I cannot change? Begrudge the people that I cannot like? Belittle the ones I cannot respect? Worry about the decisions that others make that affect me? Misalign my frustration upon others with an indignity that they have not caused? That is the world’s potshard that is insufficient slake my misery’s thirst.
Sighing, complaining and wishing cannot help. But subtly, softly, as if veiled in gauze, I believe that Jesus wants to supply me with a balm without peer.
Sunday (April 19th) was one week after Easter, which is called “Octave Day of Easter” or “Saint Thomas Day” as a way to remember that it was a week after the resurrection that Thomas is remembered by his now-infamous phrase “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” After a gentle admonishment, coupled with Thomas' repentance, Jesus encouraged the recovering-doubter: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I was drawn to this passage in John 20 for this purpose – but it was also the morning of a very unsleepable night. I read that passage at 3 am because I couldn’t sleep. The itch raging. I whispered: “Lord, I want to believe you can remove this itch from my body – and I ask it – but I want to take Thomas’ que and believe, even though I cannot see; believe there is more to the itch than just a scratch.”
So that’s my choice. There are things in our lives that we can do nothing about – except to turn it around and say: “Lord: I give you this impossibility for your fame and renown. What can I learn from this? How can I make this your altar? Shall I use it to intercede for others, others more broken than I, that your Kingdom come and will be done? Then so be it.”
St. Irenaus of Lyon wrote: “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who live upon the earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God.”
Life is more than the pleasure I can experience. In Christ, I can live the life of God even in suffering. At this, I sigh – what do I know of suffering? I am pained to refer to it as suffering, when others are desperately and truly suffering, doing their best to “believe even though they do not see.” I think of Mark’s leukemia; Glen’s body dysmorphia; Mindy’s breast cancer; Tim’s Pancreatic Cancer; David’s Parkinson’s, Mignon on hospice and others – so many others … Theirs is a hard tuition, straining forward, gaining a better resurrection! God grant them peace – Jesus, Son of the Most High, have mercy on them!
The rash and itch is more than my body’s reaction. It is a call to reflect: “Lord, what purpose can I fulfill for you to show I am fully alive in you? How can I pray? For whom can I pray? How can I desire a better peace, a better consolation, a better joy? I choose your consolation. I choose your solace.”