Sunday, May 7, 2017

Good Gifts in Strange Packaging

When I texted a friend to let her know I was at the hospital, she asked “Did you bring someone to run up and down or you?” Clearly she has some experience with Chinese hospitals. I managed to avoid the hospital through one week in bed with flu, but when I started getting worse and having more trouble breathing, I knew I needed to break down and get a chest x-ray.

Fortunately, Kevin and a student were with me to help with the running up and down as well as translation. The process went like this:
1. Wait in long line to register
2. Be examined by doctor
3. Wait in line to pay for bloodwork and x-ray
4. Get blood drawn
5. Wait for x-ray
6. Get bloodwork results
7. Wait for x-ray results
8. Consult with doctor
9. Wait in line to pay for CT
10. Wait for CT
11. Wait for CT results
12. Consult with doctor
13. Wait to pay for medicine
14. Get medicine

These were actually all on the first floor, but there was a lot of back and forth and waiting in line. Fortunately the hospital wasn’t too crowded so we were in and out in three hours. The doctor seemed thorough and even told the others to wait outside the exam room. (When I saw another doctor a few days later, the small exam room was crowded with 17 people waiting to jump in and grab their turn. This is more normal.) She was willing to give me oral antibiotics to take home, instead of spending hours getting IVs or worse, having to stay in the hospital.

I was very happy to go home, but I wasn’t so happy about the diagnosis: pneumonia in both lungs. I was really hoping to avoid that. I had already been sick in bed with the flu for more than a week. I thought I was finally getting better.

The week in bed with the flu wasn’t so bad. I felt terrible, but being in bed wasn’t so bad.  Toward the end of the week, I opened my devotional book and read, “Consider what great things He has done for you.” Strangely enough, I immediately knew He was talking about the flu.

The day before I started feeling sick, I hosted a small group of women gathered here for a retreat put together by Velvet Ashes for women serving all over the world.  The main passage for this retreat was 1 Kings 19, when God provided for Elijah in the wilderness and then spoke to him through a gentle whisper.

As I read through the passage, I could relate Elijah’s feeling. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said as he laid down in exhaustion, “Take my life.” I haven’t been at the point of wanting to die, but many times this year I have felt Done. It has been such a long season of sickness, terrible sleep, more sickness, depression, anxiety, burnout. Sometimes I have just had enough.

But what I especially noticed was how God responded to Elijah.  He didn’t say, “Stop being dramatic. Get over yourself. Get on with being useful - you’re a big time prophet after all.” God just fed him. He provided food and water right where he was lying. Then he let him rest again and fed him again. He never showed impatience. He said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”

Isn’t it reassuring? God didn’t say, “I will never give you more than you can handle, so if you can’t handle this you are obviously need more faith.” He said, this is more than you can handle, so let me give you strength. After Elijah rested and ate - and rested and ate again - he had the strength to travel for 40 days to a place where God spoke to him.

As we contemplated this passage through the retreat, I knew that God was telling me it was okay to rest and allow him to care for me. It was okay that the journey is too much for me. I wasn’t quite sure what this would look like in practical life, but I certainly wasn’t picturing more sickness, after this year of relentless sickness.

Nevertheless, at the end of the first week in bed, when I read “Consider what great things He has done for you,” I knew God was saying the sickness was a great thing he had done for me. “In faithfulness he has afflicted you.” What a strange idea. But when else would I have the chance to stay in bed and stare at the wall, to disengage from life? I wasn’t able to take care of others; I had to allow them to take care of me. God was going to great lengths to give me rest!

The time was not easy on my family. Kevin was exhausted from taking care of the girls and doing what I normally do - on top of all he normally does. The girls were hardly showing their best sides. Okay actually they were being jerks. The house was a wreck. I was itching to get things back under control, under my control. I have some control issues.

“Thanks God,” I thought. “I’m glad I learned that lesson and am getting better.”

But I didn’t get better. Instead I got pneumonia. That wasn’t what I had pictured either.  “I’m grateful for the rest,” I said in my little talk with God, “But don’t you think this is a little overkill?? Also p.s. this is just making me weaker and more tired.”

Another week in bed, wondering if I was actually getting better. Wondering how we were going to get through this. Worrying the antibiotics wouldn’t really help. Worrying about Adalyn’s stomach problems and Nadia’s fever. Worrying about the horrible air as a huge dust storm blew through.  Getting up with Nadia every few hours of the night, as babies are no respecters of sickness or sleep. Almost forgetting what normal life felt like, the kind of normal that allows me to be out of bed for more than ten minutes.

I finished re-watching Downton Abbey. I read some recommendations from my book club. I stared at the wall. I spent too much time mindlessly scrolling Facebook. And God continued to speak to me.

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…
In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul…
Did I not say that if you believed you would see the glory of God?...
Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows…
For he knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust…

I want to bring this lesson to a close. I want to be strong again. I want to stop being the needy one. Not just these two weeks, but these two years. Can it be my turn to have it all together now, to be the bold and daring and super-awesome-wish-I-was-her one instead of the one always going on about needing grace?

I want this season of sickness to be over. I truly do. But I have realized I don’t have to wait for things to get better to say, “Yay, he finally healed us. See I knew God was good.”

At the end of this long year of sickness, I realize God is not waiting to show his goodness through finally making us well. He is already showing his goodness through the sickness. He shows me that he cares for me even when I can’t do anything useful. He shows me I don’t have to be in control. He shows me that other people love me and want to help. He shows me he is faithful and strong and present. 

I am still sick in bed. He is still good.

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say...

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

No comments: