The Wonders of His Love, Part 4

31 Days of Reflection

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” Psalm 30:11-12

(20/31) - In the next moments after her question, my counselor was quiet. I still had my eyes closed, was crying, with tissues in hand, and yet another wakeful vision took shape in my mind.

I saw myself coming out of the CT scan—when I was too weak to sit up, and in too much pain to stay lying down. As I rolled out of the machine (like had happened in real life), I rolled out of the machine into the hand of God. My head was at His fingertip, and my feet at His wrist, and I was held. Secure. Not alone. The room was filled with brilliant, blinding light; angels everywhere, and the warmest comfort I have ever experienced.

The truth was: I had not been alone in that room. The real time, in the flesh experience had been loneliness to the max, but I was held.

The most profound thing about it is that truly ALL those months I’d struggled afterward, deeply hurting—the pain of loneliness from ALL of it was gone. It was as if loneliness had been erased. In an instant, rectified.

Presently, I continue to feel the extreme comfort of knowing God is with me every minute of every day. Truly with me. Immanuel.

Since that day, I have not had even one more anxiety attack of that nature or severity. Do I still experience some anxiety on occasion? Yes. Does it terrorize me to the same degree or keep me from moving forward? Not even close.

Loneliness—something that has truly been a lifelong theme—no longer casts the shadow it once did.

I went home that evening with such a light spirit, I was smiling, laughing—something my kids hadn’t seen me do for a while. I truly felt like dancing, and told my kids to put on some tunes so we could have a dance party in the living room. I was up, twirling kids, playfully tickling them, and dancing like a total fool, completely floored by the joy…by the freedom I felt.

My 3.5 year old son looked up with me, bewildered with wide, innocent eyes and exclaimed, “Mama! I didn’t know you could DANCE!”

In his 3.5 years of life, he had no memory of me dancing.

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“For all things are for your sakes, so that grace, having spread to more and more people, will cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:15-16

(21/31) - All my life, I’ve had a soul hunger that gnawed at me from the inside. Sometimes it was physical. Pangs and emptiness followed by a compulsion to fill, fill, fill; an unruly desire to satiate the ache with the most comforting foods I could find, regardless of the consequences. Other times hunger was a hollow hurt somewhere less discernible in the center of me…the place where longing, loneliness, and grief were the most familiar residents. I wasn’t aware of it at all times, but it was a hunger that drove some of my behaviors—co-dependence in relationships, a high need for validation, overcommitment to high-achievement/perfectionism, productivity at the expense of rest—and the list goes on.

I wasn’t aware I’d buried my deep needs with impressive coping skills of every kind.

For six months, I went to counseling every week. I explored the ins and outs of many life experiences, the conclusions I’d drawn from them, and the ways those conclusions have shaped my understanding—for good or for bad. In the process, I gained freedom, clarity, and remarkable healing in multiple areas of my life. Some were miraculous types, others were worked out in wrestling through memories, recognizing patterns, and exploring a new posture toward life and toward God. Pride and productivity were deposed from their thrones, and I started seeking a new, gentler way of life.

I have grown to believe all of what I’ve experienced since the embolism has served to bring me gifts from God I may not have discovered any other way. Incredibly valuable gifts. The pain had purpose. It was not a twisted, punitive message of God’s displeasure. My pain was an open door to connect with God and receive (abundantly) all that He supplies for those who seek Him.

This heavy season has not been my favorite, but it has set me in a secure place and helped me in far greater ways than it has harmed me. I say that as someone who nearly died. I have gained a profound appreciation for many things I once overlooked, breath first of all.

I don’t buy the lies pain tells me anymore. It tells me death is inevitable, but the spirit within me knows better. I am alive, on my way toward complete renewal.

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“We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:11

(22/31) - My husband was a heroic presence through all my unraveling. When things fell apart and I could not equitably contribute to our family system the way I once did, he patiently rolled with the punches. He absorbed the shock waves. He remained a safe and soft place to land, even when I was every kind of broken. He believed me when I was barely able to articulate my symptoms and the details of my anxiety episodes. As I learned how to speak out loud what I needed, he responded with love. When I couldn’t explain why I was crying, he held my hand and comforted me. When I had physical symptoms, he listened with compassion and helped me discern whether trauma was talking or whether I needed to actually see a doc. When bills arrived in the mail, he paid them quietly, not burdening me with the sums. He was careful to hold back the tide of any additional stress from my field of view, and soldiered on, doing what needed to be done to keep us afloat.

Stress took its toll on him. He had gained a considerable amount of weight and his energy levels were low. He’d fall asleep in the afternoons, snagging involuntary naps on the couch while kids were all around. At night, when I heard him breathing, I felt uneasy about his health, but I didn’t know how to help him regain vision for his own wellness while I was struggling so hard with mine. I started praying for him every night while he slept—that God would help us both get our feet under us, help us out of survival mode. I didn’t know how that was going to happen.

Not long after, he announced he was going to start tracking his water intake in an app on his phone. He set a goal for how much water he’d drink each day, and the challenge was set. Every ounce of water he drank, accounted for in the app. Ok, I thought. Good, nerdy step forward. He stopped drinking soda, and stopped counting coffee toward his daily goal. Influenced by his excitement about it, I tried tracking my own water intake for exactly two days before I gave up. He kept up with it. It was the only change he made at the time, but within four months, he lost 40lbs.

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“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

(23/31) - “That was the one that broke you,” my husband said of the arrival of our sixth baby, five years ago. “It’s true. Nothing was the same after that,” I replied. 

In terms of charted outcomes, it was a success; healthy home birth and a 10lb chubby love of a baby. But the four years following it were their own kind of trauma. After that birth, I had significant problems with my pelvis, an interior thigh muscle, and chronic lower back pain. I was able to walk enough for basic everyday tasks—to and from my car, through a grocery store, to supervise kids at the park while leaning on a stroller—but I couldn’t carry my son in a carrier against my body, and I couldn’t walk for exercise. Whenever I tried, even just a mile or two at a gentle pace, my pelvis and lower back would hurt for days. I didn’t know what to do about it. I hobbled along the best I could. The baby went in a stroller til he was mobile, and I kept all walking to a minimum. 

Fast forward to the embolism, birth seven, and the fallout of my multiple medical challenges. Counseling brought spiritual breakthrough and relief from anxiety, but it also brought the beginning of physical healing from this four-year-old chronic pain problem due to the previous birth. In fall 2019, I started walking once or twice a week to stave off anxiety when it started to rise. I was easily winded. My distance was not impressive.

I started with the block I lived on, and went around it once or twice. Later, I would stretch it out to a full ten or fifteen minutes of movement. By December 2019, I was walking every couple of days for 15 or 20 minutes—mostly for the calm it brought me. I started to recognize even a small amount of movement made a difference…every step taken, a step out of helplessness and a step toward agency in my healing journey. 

I stopped seeing myself as irreparably broken. I was weak, yes. I felt a little lost. Where to start? But I started doing what I could, making the choice to move forward, rather than remain resigned. It was the first sign of progress—I was building endurance…very humble amounts of it, but I was on the move.

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“Hear, My son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; Do not let go; guard her for she is your life.” Proverbs 4:10-13

(24/31) - On January 1, 2020, I laced up my shoes with the intention of walking a mile. I don’t know if it was a wind of New Years optimism that sent me down the street on a mission, but I ended up walking nearly 3 miles. The next day, I laced up and walked again. Curiously, I had no back or pelvis pain afterward. This was new. I was jazzed about it.

Within a few days, I officially made it my goal to walk—any distance—on purpose, every day. My husband joined me. Sometimes we walked together. Sometimes we walked independently. I walked every day in January and wound up with 110 miles logged for the month. Sunny, rainy—it didn’t matter, I went.

This habit was well established by the end of February.

March brought the beginning of Covid lockdowns, this walking practice became a lifeline. My husband started working from home, kids were out of school, and suddenly our 1500 square foot home felt painfully small for 9 people who were home 100% of the time.

So we walked. We got bikes and scooters for the kids. Some days we went out two or three times. We walked for sanity. We walked for space. We walked for something to keep us moving in the midst of global pandemic confusion. Some days it was 3 miles. Sometimes it was 5, 7, or 9.

My husband got serious about rowing (a rowing machine was our first quarantine purchase), kettle bell workouts, and partway through the year, started rucking. We ate healthfully, and both of us lost a significant amount of weight and incrementally gained strength. I’m not telling you this to brag, but to share just how profoundly our lives have changed in the span of a year. Has it been a crap year in lots of ways? Yes. It has also been a year of remarkable physical restoration for both of us. By the time the calendar turns, I’ll have logged over 1600 walking miles, and my husband even more than that.

Grief has been present. Health anxiety remains. I just keep walking. I continue to have deep and honest conversations with God about hurts, heartaches, and how to live after having been through such a deep valley. But He keeps nudging me forward.

“Just walk, Emily. I am with you.”

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“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10

(25/31) - Where the trail splits, we take the narrow path along the water’s edge. My husband leads the way, our children between us. I am the rear guard to make sure no one falls behind. The air is crisp and icicles hang from the large mossy rock along the trail. I take careful steps over fallen branches, grateful for the gentle pace I am learning to walk in all things. How much easier it is to notice the beauty and account for each blessing when I am not rushing past, rushing through. To be here, now—in this time—is a gift. To have traveled through a horrendous season of uncertainty and unraveling was also a gift, although it took me some time to see it that way. It brought me understanding; how unimaginable beauty can be tucked curiously inside of brokenness. It brought me to Jesus, the one and only rescue from every kind of hardship.

Hardship changes us whether we want to be changed or not. Some people get tougher. I don’t mean admirably strong and resilient. I mean stiff, leathery, and harder to reach. Pain demands a response, and the options are to become callous or become tender. One deadens our senses—and our spirits—to the extraordinary significance of ordinary moments. The other makes us alive, deeply-feeling, and receptive to heavenly nourishment that strengthens us in spirit, mind, and body.  

I once was blind. Then I went to the valley of the shadow and found Jesus was there. In the valley. Waiting for me. Inviting me to slow my pace where my eyes might be opened to the goodness of His love. The wonders. And now I see: I do not have to be afraid. There is good news of great joy: Jesus. The Savior. Christ, my Lord.

I walk the path, the sun ahead and low in the winter sky. Shadows are everywhere, long and leaning my way. I see the silhouette of a small pine tree ahead; a mostly dark outline, intricate tufts of needles grouped together and topped with glittery light. I have seen darkness and discovered the glow of a hope that cannot be taken.

Surround us in Your Light, Lord. Help us recognize we are in the current of Your grace, no matter what troubles are in view. Bring comfort, bring joy. In Jesus’ name.

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“Be strong and courageous...The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:7a, 8

(26/31) - One year ago, I stood beside my husband, my arm tucked in under his as he leaned on a podium to share his memories of Grandpa Mac, a man who—well into his 80’s—sparked wonder and delight in kids of all ages. I wanted to be there, present and close, as the shaky words and endearing personal stories tumbled out to the friends and family gathered to honor the life of Paul E. McMains.

A month later, I stood at a podium inside the church my grandparents attended long before I was born. I shared stories about my mother’s father—my Grandpa Bill, also passed on—to wooden pews full of friends and family.

This was our start to 2020; solemn gatherings of both sides of our families to grieve the losses of two patriarchs gone to be with the Lord. I am grateful we were able to gather, and grieved for the widows, our grandmothers, left to figure out how to survive a pandemic without their spouses of six decades, respectively. 

It was the start of a season marked by perplexing and complex grief for everyone.

I closed up my regular life a week before the rest of Seattle. An early, confirmed Covid case in my husband’s office building sent everyone to work from home until further notice. I’d read a few things about the virus, and—not that I claim any significant foreknowledge of what it would become—somehow I sensed it was going to be more than a momentary disruption. Even though schools were still open that week, we skipped classes, opting to stay home. 

Thus began a string of shifty-feeling months as we entered the pandemic landscape.

In a weird way, I was ready for this year. I mean, I wouldn’t have chosen it—but even as 2020 slid into the ditch, I was not unprepared for the kind of endurance it would require. All 9 of us under one roof, figuring out the puzzle of things; learning to deep breathe and dance in new ways.

A catastrophic health event provided me blueprints for navigating unexpected challenges and unruly emotions. What had been my most harrowing life experience served to supply me with wisdom and anchor points to handle the weirdest year yet.