I am one of those middle-aged women: the chronic pain sufferers whom everyone wishes would either (a) buy the pharmaceutical they are advertising or (b) shut up.
I am on day 12 of a “fibromyalgia” flare–no matter what this is, on an intellectual level, its power is impressive. I can feel the insides of my bones; the pain is genuinely exquisite–my Grandma Williams’ favored description. I can feel the hollows inside my radius and ulna, the centers of my fingers. Every half-inch or so, my muscles are knotted; in some places, they are lengths of thick rope. Masseuses are always impressed–at an Omni Resort one marveled, “Your back feels like a TABLE!” Most days, if a surgeon said, “In five minutes, I’m going to biopsy your right thigh,” I would pay him cash money–and let him use lidocaine.
Thankfully, after a ten-year search for the right doctors and medicines, most days are bearable, with the ache at a friendly-hello pain level three. However, I’ve spent the past 48 hours at distract-yourself-by-going-to-the-beach pain level thirteen. Last night, as I took selfies with the full moon over my shoulder, the hypocrisy of my smile amused me.
The pictures are happy ones: My beautiful daughter and I are sitting at a high-top table on the back deck of mellow mushroom, our puppy at our feet. My daughter is agleam, adorned in gold chokers and necklaces, stars hanging from her ears, an ancient Egyptian princess come to life. In other pictures, the puppy is bounding in the surf, and I am sprucing up the local park–ripping stubborn vines off the cast-iron plants. Level thirteen pain is quelled by the yanking of weeds, the glimmer of the moon, the sound of distant voices–ghastly pain can neither rest in a bed nor sit in a chair. In those places, bones scream, and muscles snap. Hands grasped around Virginia Creeper and feet in baby-powder sand are distracted, more orderly.
It’s true in my own yard, too–beneath the Drake elm and pecan trees that the Paulks planted all those years ago, I lie beneath the blue sky with its circling hawks. I tell myself people are paying resort fees for my deck lounger and view, for this comfort.
I am talking with a stranger–life’s limbo necessitates tedious phone calls with them. Changing addresses, stopping service, clarifying account numbers, and insisting that there is no longer a need for cable.
Sometimes, the callers can hear the tears in my voice–eighteen months after my father’s death by suicide, there are still days of crashing waves, mouthfuls of sandy ocean-bottom; the ending of my marriage has its own whirlpool days–round and round in failure and sorrow. And in the whirlpool and the waves, there is Julie, the unluckiest of customer service reps.
She says, “That’s a lot at once, those things at once.”
We sit in silence, suddenly friends, looking at Big Things.
Then she says, “You have God.”
I have made it clear to her–I know I have God, I know He has not left me. The assurance of His presence is the blessing in this. But her echo back, the tone, the simplicity of belief in her voice, this assurance from an angel-voiced stranger: something in it is different and strong.
Finally, things are simple and factual.
I have a lot at once. I also have God.
Julie and I hang up–she has sold me nothing but given me much, and I bring the dogs out into the yard. We will stay here all evening to quiet my pain; the puppy drags around pieces of a black plastic welcome mat, tossing them with delight. The old dog lies panting in the decade-old pit she once dug beneath the azaleas, and Little Dog is at my feet on the patio. The bougainvillea is starting to blossom; I can’t tell which brown sticks to cut and which will return with paper flowers to cheer me. The never-pruned crepe myrtle is low, having been oft-climbed in lately.
I call a friend, one of the wisest and kindest people I know. I tell her how much I want certainty–how tired I am of oceans and whirlpools, how much I would like land, hard rock beneath my feet, and a map in my hand. How much I would like to talk with my father. How that, at least, would help.
It is the first time I have said that sentence.
She tells me that when she is on her long walks, she prays, naming each circle of people she prays for–homeschooling parents, mothers of toddlers, teachers by school type. She says she prays for me—every day.
And, for a split second, I feel that bitter edge, the sarcastic reflex, the easy roll of, “Sure doesn’t seem like it.” Or, “Well, pray harder.”
But then, as I look at the bright gold sunlight on the cherry laurel leaves, I realize: Maybe this is what Prayed For looks like.
I want the Prayed For that comes with a clear plan–one in which I am well-groomed, clear-eyed, and sleep more than six hours a night. The Prayed For that wears earrings every day and can order confidently in a restaurant. The Prayed For in which Christianity looks more like victory and less like surviving.
But Prayed For doesn’t have to look like Joyce Meyer or Lysa TerKeurst or Beth Moore.
I tend to forget that.
Prayed For can be a made bed, a shower, brushed teeth. I now take satisfaction from those things. There is so much accomplishment in a vacuumed rug, a bag of trash taken to the road.
Abby and I bathed dogs at 9:30 p.m., smearing peanut butter on the sides of the tub for them to lick as we dumped water over their heads. Together, we laughed like fools at the absurdity of it, recording ourselves and our rollicking dogs.
We looked happy and fun–dog hair was everywhere; the bathtub water was grey; Abby’s running commentary was hilarious.
We were full of laughter. We were full of sorrow.
Abby crowed over her shoulder, “How did we get here? To this point? Nobody knows.”
The glimmer in her eyes? Prayed For.