The Walk Ahead: a faint yell, a steady voice

Loss was remembered and I would soon rather it be long forgotten, so I wouldn’t have to be reminded of the what that was and what cannot be.

I’ve surrendered many things associated to my new life, large and nuanced, but feelings of what was surrendered has sprung up over the past months in ways I cannot flee from. It’s like a slide show on repeat, and I have to engage with the characters, but I’m refusing to because it’s too raw.

I have believed life’s lie—time: erasure.

And I’d soon rather turn loss into a permanent past tense: lost.

But loss is ongoing.

The Shepherd and His Sheep

One night I was alone in our house that did not feel like home, and I was brought to The True Shepherd’s passage where God, The True Shepherd, seeks His sheep (Ezekiel 34).

It’s a familiar story. One that I have grown up seeing. My dad, uncle, and grandfather raised sheep on my family’s farm in Colorado when I was a child, so I watched my father tend to the sheep. He still tends a small flock.

Some falls and winters hundreds of sheep grazed the open fields of the farm: I marveled at the visiting shepherd from New Zealand, who lived in a tiny silver round-top home on wheels, and who, with Great Pyrenees guard dogs, protected the large herd from wolves, coyotes, foxes, and neighboring dogs.

If the Lord is The True Shepherd, and He is my Lord, there must be an acknowledgment of my identity: I am a sheep.

I am a sheep: I am either following the Shepherd, or I am lost, prone to getting lost, and prone to being lost. I am prone to follow the wrong shepherd and prone to follow the wrong herd when I don’t tune my ear and heart to hear the Shepherd’s sure voice.

Greener Pasture

In fall my dad moved the small remnant of sheep he still keeps on the farm to a different pasture, and in the commotion one of the lambs grew so distressed, she broke her leg.

Jerod and I, too, have been moved from pasture to pasture, and how distressing to move away from a Colorado pasture of treasures: the comfort and the familiar—to a new, unknown pasture.

My dad kept the lamb with a broken leg in the corral away from the herd, yet when he tried to bind the lamb’s broken leg, she didn’t want her wound bound.

She didn’t know broken or healing when my dad, who previously tried to move her to a different pasture, came to bind the wound and help her in the pain.

We can say that sheep are foolish animals, but really they have a stubborn heart for the familiar and the comfortable. I have this heart.

As I read the passage in Ezekiel, I imagine God cradling a curled lamb, and I remember recent nights when pain and darkness rolled in and me scattered.

My husband drapes the blanket of white wool-like fuzz my mother-in-law and sister-in-law made over me—my nerves love all things soft. Under this blanket I am a lamb seeking its wounds be bound and its broken heart be healed.

These nights are a faint yell of Colorado and the noise grew louder and louder. Our once comfortable and familiar pasture for over 30 years, which had become an environment of affliction because of my sudden health decline, had followed us to Florida.

Since July we have been studying a steady decline in my health—my husband more so than me. For those who live with chronic anything, the daily-ness causes you to take life hour by hour. But it’s apparent my decline was from leaking cerebrospinal fluid again.

We based my possible leaking on my past five years of pain, for there is not an easy test to verify my leaking nor is there a doctor nearby to help me, a “leaker.” Our closest “emergency room” is at Duke Hospital in North Carolina. In February Jerod contacted the doctor who patched my dura surrounding my spine two and half years ago. After a particularly bad night, we pleaded for friends and family to intercede for a response from her. At 3:45 pm she emailed saying she would be delighted to help again.

I remember this path of suffering from the past five years: darkness, pain, noise, migraines, pain, wheelchairs, pain, loss. This was to be my 5th patching procedure, and what would be gained?

Onward

On April 10th I underwent a series of tests to detect possible leaks, and on April 11th the doctor patched three more areas. Today I am three months post-patched and taking my days hour by hour.

Yet, I am still prone to an anxious heart when I don’t trust the Shepherd and rest when He tells me to wait because I am worried about the walk ahead. All signs point to this—leaking, patching, aching—being our life, but I need a long-range perspective: heaven.

I text my mom that I am discouraged, yet I wonder if these afflictions keep me close to the Lord. For me my weakness has kept me from wandering to an other voice: to the comfortable, the familiar, the material. These things are attempts to numb the pain, but God has promised to be near amidst the pain and even give life during the pain—a paradox of beautiful grace.

Jerod and I celebrate 11 years of marriage this month, and at our wedding ceremony we sang the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” with all of our family and friends standing behind us and singing along with us. The most well-known section of the 3-stanza hymn, where hymnist Robert Robertson (1758) writes what many of us feel in times of pain, grief, loss, and loneliness: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, / prone to leave the God I love; / here’s my heart, O take and seal it; / seal it for thy courts above.

It’s those fleeting moments that can turn into days, weeks, months, or even years where we shake our fist at God, our First Love and our True Shepherd. But, we finally render our heart and hurt to the One who truly binds our heart to Thee.

This beloved hymn, Jerod and I learned, has a fourth stanza that has been slowly omitted over the past 250 years. The third stanza ends with a short plea for heaven, but this heart needs more.

The fourth stanza gives a profound image to fix my eyes on: the sheep meeting her Shepherd. And a melody to tune my heart, to rest my heart upon, and to remember:

O that Day when freed from sinning,
I shall see thy lovely Face;
Clothed then in blood-washed Linnen [sic]
How I’ll sing thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransom’d Soul away;
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.


*Photo credit:
Picture 1, Amanda Pfannenstiel Photography
Picture 2, my dad, the shepherd

Words too few: It is Well

A bouquet of blooms on a day of good
health
They remind    I remember
but
the hours usher
surrender to the idles of health
One flower bows its bloom, and
the days usher surrender
one by one by one

I remember
Petals still
white, blooms brought low
to the hope of health   bear it no more
to the hope of it is well

I can still smell the fresh bouquet

A Greater Narrative

“Do you think you have seen healing take place in your body?”

A year ago my dad asked this haunting question, and I was immediately resistant.

This was last summer—three years after my health had declined significantly and one full year after three different procedures of blood and fibrin glue patches being placed along my spine to repair spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leaks: one at Anschutz in Denver, one at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and one at Duke Hospital in Raleigh-Durham, NC.

During these three years, I had gone from working my dream job full time to part time to unemployed; I’ve been in and out of a wheel-chair; I go to physical therapy two times a week to maintain mobility to walk and help with pain management and a host of other doctors weekly.

When my dad asked this question my doctor from Duke Hospital had just recommended my husband and I move from Colorado to sea level, away from all of our family, our jobs, and our church family.

In response to my dad’s question I was thinking: Am I back to normal?

I was not hearing the question though.

Have I seen healing?

Now, almost 5 years after the tipping decline of my health, my dad’s question still resurfaces.

I am reading the miracles that Moses and Aaron perform before Pharaoh in Exodus 7: turning the staff into a snake and turning the Nile River to blood. These miracles show the power, the presence, and the reality of God to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh hardens his heart.

I’ve read these sections many times and I’m always critical of Pharaoh: How can you, Pharaoh, see such clear demonstrations of God’s power and still fail to render your heart to God?

The truth is that I’m realizing I am like Pharaoh—given access to the Lord’s marvelous works in my life and those around me yet failing to be moved by His wonders.

My heart says, That’s not enough.

For years I have been critical of Pharaoh, until now. I stand convicted.

In my prayer journal, I confessed to God that I am like Pharaoh:

“I can witness Your miracles, blessings, mighty works—I can see them—and I still harden my heart. I still choose to believe that Your promises are not for me . . . or I am disheartened because they are not for me now.”

I can see the Lord’s mighty works in my life and those around me, yet fail to be moved by His wonders. I cannot help but wonder if there are a couple issues behind this.

I can see God’s gifts and worship the gift, not the Giver. So when the newness of the gift wears off, I wonder why I am left with a hard heart again.

Or my heart is masked as one of Job’s friends. I may not seek to question, let alone explain God like they do, but I may have expectations on how God should miraculously move in my life. And unless He does so, I choose not to be moved. I choose not to respond in worship.

I withhold worship.

After Job’s friends mourned with Job and his loss and sat with him in silence, they then spoke from their own wisdom in an attempt to rationalize Job’s suffering. In response to man’s wisdom, God brings His wisdom:

“Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen” (Job 38:28-30)?

In this chapter, God finally breaks His silence and speaks to Job directly and perhaps to his listening friends by using a series of more than 70 questions. Not only was God present in the beginning to create water, He is the parent.

Many of the questions suggest that Job and his friends, in their supposed wisdom, have lived since the beginning of time, yet only one has done so–God.

This chapter in Job truly points to God’s preeminence, pertaining to His dominion of the natural creation and our ignorance over its concurrence and harmony: All things work together to sustain themselves because of God, not because of Job, his friends–or me.

As I wrestle with my dad’s question of how God must heal me, I’m failing to see God’s greater narrative in my life.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40: 12-14)?

As my husband and I left the mountains and plains of Colorado for the sugar sand and water of Florida, I am given an even grander view of God’s majesty: All of this plus me are held in the palm of His hand.

When my dad asked the question of if I had seen healing (not healed), I realized a greater issue—my hard heart to see areas of God’s grace and mercy and His areas of healing in my life. I am dictating to God what wonder in my health, marriage, and life I believe He should perform.

I was the author of my narrow narrative.

I was failing to praise Him for the life He has granted me.

During the first year of my sickness my husband thought I had died during the middle night, twice. Praise God for sparing death!

From complications after a procedure, we now realize how close I was to becoming paralyzed. Praise God for sparing paralysis!

I can sit in a chair with the light on. Gone is the darkness!

I can cook for my husband, which I love to do.

I can walk with my husband.

I’m not held as captive by my pain. I can interact more with those around me.

Sometimes the pain and complications of my health consume our days, weeks, and evenings, but my husband and I share victories from our days, the areas where God has upheld us, carried us, and sustained us.

walkingonbeach3

After all, Jesus Christ is the great Victor, so we can walk victoriously even if we come home from the battle a bit bruised.

One Hundred Words of Solitude

I retrace the familiar while I lie on the table in the doctor’s office each week. This room has eleven ceiling tiles: square and white.

A different doctor, a different retracing, but still familiar. Twelve ceiling tiles: rectangle and ivory.

A new room this day. Rare: finger-paintings with primary colorspalm trees, sunatop square and white.

I study the rare.

Hundreds of doctors’ appointments. Retracing hundreds of solitudes.

But the prayers for a song to come in the night, comes.

Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Keeping time, I retrace the chorused Hope.

Watching and waiting, I look above.

 

“One Hundred Words” will be a periodic series of different blog post shorts—a mix of prose and poetry—consisting of one hundred words. Let me know what you think.

Grace in the Stillness

Grace in the Stillness: The Dance with My King
for Rachel

Waltz with me
in the rain like cries
resting on your lashes
coursing down your cheek
fresh, metallic
puddles resting still
and silence sings

I seek to dance with you
laced in glory
and grace in the stillness of night
when time, its power long
forgotten

and I am broken
before your feet
but you piece me
beautifully
and take my hand to dance.

Twirl me,
your ballerina,
and my hair flutters in summer
so binding.

For I’ve never known one
who moves me
quite like you,
who breaks
my heart anew,
as the waltzing rain
beats with me and you.

When we began the hard, unknown road of suffering, what I did not anticipate was being forever and deeply moved by the most beautifully grace-filled saints afflicted by profound suffering. She, who has forever marked me, would have turned 29 years old today.

This is my dear friend: she is dancing with her King, her Savior, Jesus Christ. I love you and miss you. I look forward to seeing you dance.

  

Waiting: Wandering & Wondering

I am wandering, I confess, and I don’t yet know how to articulate it to others. As a writer, I only want to present my polished thoughts in written form.

I talked to my dad and he encouraged me that those closest to my husband and me want to know how we are doing.

See, those closest to us are no longer “close”—a drive away: we left all of our family and friends in northern Colorado just over 7 months ago to move to Sarasota, Florida because of my health.

I swelled with tears and admitted to my dad that other than providing an update on doctors’ appointments, I could not articulate much because I am still processing other layers of surrender.

My dad said that people maybe need to hear that—the wandering, the unpolished, the untied bow in my story.

Except for “How would you rate your pain today?” from doctors, I tend to have little contact with humanity, because this season has been set aside for my body to recuperate…we hope.

We just don’t know how long this season will be as what we thought was back pain, and then a head cold has now turned into a four-year life-altering U-turn.

My pain is neurological, but my pain is also emotional. Doctors try to fix the far-reaching neurological pain, but only the Great Physician can work on the emotional pain.

I’ve hit the identity wall quite a few times these past four years as my illness continues to refine who I am in Christ, and I hit the wall again—painfully—as I arrived in a new place and the questions of, “Why did you move here?” and, “What do you do?” come frequently.

No one prepared us for these questions; more importantly, no one prepared me for how deep these answers strike.

The answers to these, whether we realize them or not, are profoundly rooted in what we do, and what we do is deeply connected to who we are: our identity.

When the plane’s wheels left the ground in Colorado, my husband and I knew the gravity of what we were leaving, but the past 7 months have revealed further layers of unraveling, realizing that my career and ministry as an instructor with college students stayed in Colorado, too.

So maybe you’re wandering or wondering too, and it’s pretty lonely. Or maybe there are people rushing around you and you are still lonely.

img_0803Many of my fictional worlds come from Classic Literature. Other than reading the Bible and theology, I mostly read literature written by dead writers. It’s the curse of the English Major.

Where Henry David Thoreau welcomed such solitude in his transcendentalist work, Walden, I’m fighting it—hard.

The solitude, for me, leads to self-isolation, doubt, and destruction. It leads to inwardness, and not the Romanticized view of inwardness: reclining on the side of a riverbank where I’m pondering beautiful, edifying, lovely thoughts.

I’m strewn across the bed in pain battling the lies that only Satan knows how to masterfully construct; the lies that probe right to the fresh, throbbing wound (Ephesians 6:12).

And the lies become louder and louder, and the seclusion more suffocating.

My freshman year in college was the first time I felt this inclination in me: mind battles, inwardness, and isolation. Every morning I began reading God’s word and writing my prayers to God and I still do so to this day.


For now and perhaps until I am with Him in glory, being unable to do requires that I am to be with Him in His presence at His feet.


Every morning, I bring my empty cup to the Lord; an empty cup that desires to be heard, to be filled, to be known, and to know the God of the Universe:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90: 14).

Writing my prayers is the only way to focus my wandering thoughts. These prayers are love letters, letters of desire, anguish, pain, plea, remorse, intercession, praise, thanksgiving—in my isolation a conversation between God and me.

This solitude does lead to musings and writing when I daily surrender. Surrender the lie, that anxious stirring that the Lord has forgotten about me and this is why I am unable to do.

For now and perhaps until I am with Him in glory, being unable to do requires that I am to be with Him in His presence at His feet.

Therefore, “[…] I do not concern myself with great matters or things to wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:1b-2).

I’m figuratively reclining myself on the side of the riverbank. And I’m holding God to His promises:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland […]” (Isaiah 43:18-19; emphasis mine).

The former things—what was, what’s no longer…

I am called to hold those captive—thoughts concerning that which we have had to surrender, including hopes and dreams—and lay them at Jesus’ feet. Then I am commanded to see His new works.

Let me share with you my doctors—these are His blessings. These are the interactions He blesses me with each week, as these are my primary interactions.

We moved to this area for three main reasons: sea-level, barometric pressure and weather, and doctors; although, none of my doctors are specialists in what I have. God has provided 4 doctors who balance my dosage of weekly care and pain management, and because of this, I have gone from walking ¼ of a block in Colorado to 1.5 miles in Florida.

Bed-ridden to wheel-chair to walking.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

While I previously prided myself as a doer, now the waiting is being with the Lord. My wonder I can translate to expectant hope in His character and His promises. The more I marvel over this in my prayers, my journaling, and my interactions with those around me, the more I can rest in Him.

I’m taking cues from Moses’ 40 years of waiting, Paul’s 3 years of waiting, Joseph’s 13 years of waiting, and many other saints’ waiting.

God does a mighty work in waiting. After all, He’s been waiting and longsuffering for how many thousands of years? I can learn from Him.

And, I can’t help but wonder what’s around the corner…

Bearing Our Story: Being Known for What Humbles Most

I’ve been afraid to tell you my name. Scared, or perhaps too proud, to voice the story that’s being written for me. To release my name attached to this story into the sphere of the unknown audience—whoever you are.

It was an internal collision in midair on an airplane flight: a life-long dream of going to Europe and a life-long U-turn. Four years ago, at the age of 27, a spontaneous accident occurred in my body that left doctors mystified but my body slowly slipping into a pain, an almost coma-like state. I went on to suffer from misdiagnoses and no diagnoses.

Nearly two years into my decline, after a lumbar puncture and MRI of my brain, I was diagnosed with Spontaneous Cerebrospinal Spinal Fluid Leaks. My brain stem was sagging into the base of my skull, and my central nervous system along with the nerves throughout my body was in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

The name and the story: Megan—living in pain.

During the first couple of years, I lay on the couch and my husband sat at my feet. I was a shell—the pain crawled through my body ridding my presence. It rid me.

The name and the story: Thomas and suspended belief—faith by sight.

The Apostle Thomas has been labeled “Doubting Thomas” because of one response: His need to identify with the fleshly scars of a suffering Savior.

The name and the story: Jesus Christ overcomes sin and defeated the grave—for you and for me.

When Jesus first appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, there was new hope. He had defeated the grave!

But as for Thomas, he wanted to see Jesus’ scars: “‘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’” (John 20:25b).

And what was Jesus’ gracious response? “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (John 20:27).

Consider the power of Jesus’ scars to the fingertips of a doubter’s heart: Church tradition holds that Thomas carried the Gospel, the Good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection over the power of our sins, to India. And Thomas’ ministry was costly; he died a martyr for his faith in Christ with a spear to his flesh similar to that of his Savior.

The scars continue…for me and for you.

I remember my primary care physician had scribed in my medical records that as a 27 year old I had the mobility of an 80 year old. I hunched to the left, held my arms close, shuffled, and teetered from side to side. I went from walking a block, to walking half of a block, to a quarter of a block, to a handicap placard, to a wheelchair.

I remember doctors would examine me, do blood tests, MRIs, CT scans, and then shrug their shoulders and say, “By looking at you, something is clearly wrong but I do not know what. I can’t help you.”

I remember my students passing by me as I was silently praying, “Lord, just one more step,” as I tried to walk to class. I would lift my teaching notes to hide my tears.

I visited a new doctor every week. I became accustomed to waiting, spending most of my time in waiting rooms—a staging for the downtrodden who are placing all their hope in this next appointment. I remember feeling the weighty burdens and hopes.

I was a shell, yet my husband still pursued knowing me.

“How was your day?” my husband would ask me. He was being loving, but I grew to resent how hard such a question was, because you see, I could not remember my day of teaching college students, planning lessons on bed rest, and grading papers on bed rest.

Valentine’s Day, 2013: my husband took me to my favorite store to pick out my gift. It was one of the few times we left the house for a date that first year. Nearly an hour into wandering around the store, I could not remember what I liked. After crying out of frustration, he picked two antiqued mirrors that he knew I probably liked the most and surprised me.

My breathing was strained now, but a few nights my strained breathing stopped, and my husband thought I had died in my sleep. Some have asked him what he did when he thought I died. “I tried to wake her,” he says. “Then I prayed.”

As I lay on the couch, I did not know my husband was grappling with the Lord about being a possible widower: When he talked and I could only stare distantly beyond him, or when my body curled down like a conch shell and he had to carry me to bed, or when he had to pull out photographs of our previous vacations to remind me what we had done together, or when in my desperation I would ask him to remind me who I was because I did not know, or when getting into bed was so painful it left me gasping in tears, he would lay his head next to mine to calm me down. “I know it’s hard,” he’d say. “I’m so sorry.”

Four years later I still feel the confines of my pain and scars, like a prisoner in her cell. I still feel muscles spasm and nerves fire and flicker on high throughout my body. My head may feel like it will burst, or it may feel like my eyes will suck into their sockets; my mind ranges from cloudy to cloudier to a thick fog—to nothing.

This is a groaning with no words: This pain takes.

It would take without mercy if it were not for an Author, a Savior: a suffering Savior.

When Jesus first returned after His resurrection, He was known by that which humbled him most: His scars. His identity was revealed through His scars, for people identified with his scars.

Until Christ’s final return, scars and suffering are still part of our narrative, but the question is: Do I want to be known for that which humbles me most, just like Thomas was known for having a faith that required the touch of his Savior’s scars to believe?

Or like my Savior, do I want to be known for that which is most humbling—hanging bare and nailed as a spectacle before family, friends, and traitors?

I’m slow to speak because I know the answer, but relinquishing the grip of all that my illness takes, or rather, that the Lord graciously removes is still a daily act of surrender for me and my husband.

hand_megan

But my eyes must be fixed on the cross—my Savior—whose scars bear my story and my name:
Megan D. Huwa.