This past week, Nick and I went to a class our church was offering based on Tim Keller's book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. The class is a multi-week course, but the church opened up couple of sessions to anyone who wanted to hear some personal testimonies from the lead pastor and another member of the church who is pretty much a modern day Paul.
This week, the lead pastor shared his story about losing his brother in a motorcycle accident and how that impacted him, his family, and his relationship with God. Even though our experiences are so vastly different, I was reminded that it is through our seasons of struggle and pain that our understanding of God's character and purpose grows, and through that, our relationship with God (eventually...sometimes we don't see that right away...).
But what I really took away from his talk was a comment he made at the very beginning of his testimony. He made the comment that there is "something about pain that wire memories so we don't forget" anything about those moments in our lives. For him, it was his last day with his brother and the hours/days after hearing the news of his brother's death. I'm sure many other people have similar stories of recalling specific details from some of the darkest moments of their lives.
My initial thought was how weird it must be to remember so vividly certain moments in life when most of us can barely remember what we did a week ago! But as he kept speaking, I realized that even though my pain is not the same that he experienced, I do have some of those moments of vivid memories. I can remember specific details about certain days, weeks, and seasons with incredible clarity (while still barely remembering the previous week...). And in realizing that, I also realized that I have been given a gift.
My pain is not that unexpected, acute shock that he spoke about. It is a chronic, building pain that grows over time and continually pushes the boundaries of how much worse can things get. It is on going with no end in sight. Living with a chronic illness means that I have learned to live with the echo of pain always in the background, but also facing the reality that there are moments where that pain explodes from the background back to center stage. It is in many of those moments of pain that increase beyond my normal baseline where I experience moments like our pastor spoke about that cement memories into my mind with incredible clarity.
And here's the gift...those moments of increased pain may have been what triggered my brain to retain those snapshots in time, but in doing so, also meant that I retained other details about those same moments...things I might not have remembered otherwise...
I remember the day I had to use my first epipen and how terrifying it was to feel my throat closing and being unable to swallow...but I also remember friends from church stepping up to help, nurses helping to keep me calm and actually stabbing me with the first epipen, others calling Nick and an ambulance and making sure the EMTs had my medical info, and the many texts I received that night and the next day from people asking how I was doing and letting me know they were praying for me.
I remember heading in to my first endoscopy and tube change at a new hospital and being terrified of going in anaphylaxis from the anesthesia...but I also remember doing MadLibs with Nick in the pre-op area that made me laugh so much I was sore the next day (and not from the procedure =P).
I remember being admitted 2 days before Christmas and spending all of Christmas Eve in the hospital dealing with doctors who didn't understand mast cell disease, my body not responding properly, and a clogged feeding tube...but I also remember somehow fitting me, Nick, and Leni in my hospital bed to watch the Christmas Eve service online and just spending time together in the midst of the crazy holiday season.
I remember endless days of being unable to eat, throwing up, pain, and more...but I also remember Nick willingly bringing me (also seemingly endless) slurpees each night when I couldn't tolerate anything else.
I remember a day where I had not left the house in over a week, had been throwing up multiple times, passed out twice, and was physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted...but I also remember Nick coming home with a Venus Fly Trap that we started feeding flies and spiders to. (It lived 2 weeks, I think =P)
I remember when I was struggling to walk because of balance issues, loss of coordination, and muscle weakness and felt scared because we had no answers and so limited in my independence and ability to do things...but I also remember Nick pushing me around the Toledo Zoo in a double stroller (they were out of wheelchairs =P) so we could enjoy one of my favorite things (zoos!) and spend time with friends.
There are so many other moments that have been cemented into my memory because of the pain of that day/week/season. It goes beyond just vague recollections and hazy mental images...these are clear moments of specific details that echo in my mind as reminders of some of my toughest moments. Yet these memories are so much more than sad and painful...they are also full of joy, encouragement, laughter, and smiles.
Without the pain, these memories of joy would not be as clear. The toughest moments that have left their mark on my life like scars that never fully disappear, have also allowed me to remember things that otherwise would have faded into the background and been forgotten. It is BECAUSE of my pain that I have the GIFT of these other memories. For me, my pain and hope, sadness and joy, tears and laughter are so closely woven together that I can't have one without the other. And I wouldn't change that for anything.