And He’ll Do It Again

It’s the first night in a week I haven’t been up on the surgical floor at Sentara tracking my brother’s progress.  I feel the need to just be still.  The air in the evening calm after the afternoon lightning storm rekindles a creative fire dormant in these days spent pacing, swapping updates, and riding the ups and downs of a treacherous terrain.

Just after I posted last Tuesday night, P.J. was rushed to the hospital after vomiting blood.  Mom called while I was in the shower the next morning to let me know she was driving down to Hampton.   The voicemail chilled my clean skin.  She called back while I was getting in the car, unsure where I would be going.  “I don’t want you getting in the car,” Mom said.  “Your brother might not make it.”

That’s how it began for me, really, though I imagine that each one of my family members viewed this story in a different way, like my students have discovered writing their team fairy tales this week.  My librarian friend Mrs. Leonardi took care of my students, and I met my sister-in-law at the main entrance.  “It’s going to be okay,” Gabrielle said.  “He’ll be alright.  I’m not worried.” Her optimism would be a peaceful constant in the uncertain days to come.

The conversations were two sides of the same coin, but each woman, wholly devoted to my brother, brought her own lifetime’s worth of experience and perspective to that moment.  Mom has spent more time in a hospital room than anyone should.  She’s seen what happens when a potentially fatal condition becomes fatal.  With her mother, she saw what can result from a doctor’s error.  With her father, she saw how cancer could take someone’s stomach.  With her brother, she saw how one could die too young, too soon.

It was David who’d mentioned the low hemoglobin count could be a fatal condition.  My oldest brother is a gastroenterologist and a partner in a practice down in South Carolina.  P.J. was presenting symptoms for his field.  Fortunately, David was able to connect with P.J.’s nurse and physician and help translate and distribute the medical speak to the rest of us.

After thirteen hours with nurse checks every fifteen minutes, three units of blood, and the illusion of sleep in a tiny hospital bed incapable of supporting a 6’3” man without removing the footboard, my brother was moved from the ER for an endoscopy that would reveal a large ulcer in the first part of his small intestine called the duodenum.  They would treat it with medical therapy and wait on biopsy results and lab tests to determine possible causes.

I breathed a little easier after David’s post-endoscopy translation text.  By Wednesday night, P.J.’s blood count was trending upward, and the hospitalist even suggested he might be released the next day.  Only he wasn’t.  Mom, Gabrielle, and I attempted to successfully navigate dividing childcare and P.J.-care responsibilities, trying to maintain the normal routine as much as possible for the little ones who just miss their daddy, Skype a poor substitute when they all probably crave some cuddle time.

I could almost track alternating six and twelve hour cycles, encouraging and discouraging respectively.  We traversed the ups and downs of P.J.’s numbers on Thursday, too.  By Friday, I was getting a call during planning that he’d turned grey and swooned back in his bed.  Alarms went off.  Mom ran for help.  Nurses and doctors came in.  Dad was driving down.  David was driving up.  No one was breathing easy anymore.

Each day, there seemed to be another mountain awaiting us just when we’d cleared the first.  Gabrielle stayed with the kids, visiting as much as possible.  Mom never left P.J.’s side.  Her experiences had prepared her for this moment.  She saw potential negligence with a pool of liquid under an IV that had apparently not been nourishing her son for who knows how long.  She found a vile of blood in his covers.  She listened to warning alarms sounding for twenty minutes during the long night shifts.

Mom didn’t really sleep.  The reality of David’s words, that this could be fatal, ultimately made her more fervent than ever.  It fascinates me that Psalm 91 had given her spirit some peace during the early hours of Friday morning, the calm before that storm.  She was reassured that it wouldn’t be easy, but it would be okay.  Perhaps it is because she chose to cling to God as her fortress and refuge, but I watched my prayer warrior mother do real battle in that hospital room.   I might be writing a far different story had Mom not been with P.J., intervening for him and advocating for him.

Moses needed his arms held up.  So did my mom.  By the time David and Dad arrived late Friday night, another endoscopy was scheduled for 8 o’clock the next morning.  While the hospital held to the belief that there was no more internal bleeding, his low hemoglobin count seemed to confirm the alternate diagnosis that David had continually held .  A surgeon was brought in.  He explained that if the endoscopy presented the need, he would do reconstructive surgery to repair the ulceration.  More blood transfusions.  More boluses.

Charming drove down that night, too.  My little brother Timmy left Pittsburgh at 3 am after catching a brief nap.  He didn’t get to see P.J. before his procedure, but David was in the room.  This was his field.  God had prepared David for just this moment, too.  He kept waiting for the doctor to make the inevitable call, and finally inserted himself.  “Doctor,” David said, “It doesn’t look like this ulcer is amenable to endoscopic therapy.”  Moments later, P.J. was under anesthetic and in surgery for another three hours.

They were all there in the waiting room when I arrived with Charming and fifty donut holes, his idea to bolster spirits.  Gabrielle was calm.  Her best friend had the kids.  Dad’s rock-like strength was comforting to me.  Mom was lighter than in days past, likely reinforced by her ongoing conversations with God and her prayer time with my little brother.  You need that when you’re facing these mountains each day, wondering if your son is going to make it as you lie awake in a hospital room not unlike one you were in thirty years ago watching your brother die.

My gym mentor Chuck stopped by the waiting room in early afternoon, shortly after Gabrielle got the call that they had stopped the bleeding, P.J. was stable, and the surgery was a success.  It would be a few more hours before we could see him.  Chuck’s presence fit the new energy the news had brought.  I marveled at all the people in this waiting room, each with his or her own story.  Dad laughed with Chuck about everyday things.  Some normalcy returned to our family as we saw another mountain cleared.

Seeing the incision later that night, I knew instantly more mountains were ahead.  It was like the old C-sections that run vertically.  They’d removed small portions of P.J.’s stomach and small intestine and reattached the organs.  There had been no sign of bleeding because his belly was filled with blood clots.  He’d been bleeding internally for a week.

Maybe it was Gabrielle’s unfailing hope.  Maybe it was my mom’s fervent warrior spirit.  Maybe it was my older brother’s expertise.  Maybe it was my younger brother’s prayers.  Maybe it was my father’s strength.  But Sunday came, and P.J. was walking two laps around the surgical floor.  Charming and I presented P.J. with a trophy awarding him the Largest Ulcer of 2017 according to Sentara. David and Timmy headed home, having bonded in the most genuine way with the original four Palma children.

Monday, it was three laps.  Today, it was four, and Dad headed north. P.J.’s surgeon is optimistic he’ll be released on Thursday.  Throughout these days, the words to an Elevation Worship song Chuck texted me keep sounding in the still corners of my mind.  In moments like this one, absent beeping machinery and my brother attached to wires, I hear the words: “Walking around these walls, I thought by now they’d fall, but You have never failed me yet. Waiting for change to come, knowing the battle’s won, for You have never failed me yet.”

This battle was won before any of my family members arrived in that waiting room.  God had prepared each of us for that moment, and regardless of any individual role we may have played in his recovery, we stood around his hospital bed on Sunday morning together knowing full well that P.J. is alive because God moved the mountains.  While we waited for change, God had already orchestrated those intersections of experience and expertise that would heal and restore P.J.

They were all right.  It was potentially fatal.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be okay.  P.J. would be alright.  God made us a family.  In that little hospital room, Charming snapped a picture of the original gang, laughing together over the trophy, and I understood our family needed to be together.  We were stronger together, better able to navigate the mountains and machinery.

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That song keeps humming in my mind as I write.  The chorus declares, “I’ve seen You move. You move the mountains.  And I believe I’ll see you do it again.  You made a way where there was no way, and I believe I’ll see You do it again.”

That’s my declaration, too.  Day after day, God kept moving the mountains for P.J. that we couldn’t even see.  Every time we thought the worst was behind us, another complication brought us to our knees in prayer.  There will be more mountains for us.  Looking back at the terrain of the past week, I have seen Him make a way where there was no way.  And I believe He’ll do it again.

Each of us in that waiting room has his or her own version of this story to tell, but the one common plot element is its theme.  We saw God make a way.  God moved the mountains.  And He’ll do it again.

I hope that golden trophy awarding P.J. the largest tumor of the year becomes a symbol of God’s providence, a still reminder of the power of a faithful family.

What They’ll Become

The perpetual dirt under my fingernails confirms spring’s arrival.  I’ve been craving those late evening hours of sunlight after work and the gym where I can disappear in the back yard.  Forsaken weeds beg my attention.  In the garden, real world anxieties dissipate.  Mother Nature decides how many days until harvest.  Nothing else has to make sense.

Lately, it seems, little else does.

Try though I might, I see no discernible sequence for these maternal waves of longing.  They seize me when least expected or welcome.  They attack with little warning, often accompanied by sneaky tears.  It happened today after I’d congratulated a coworker on her engagement.  I’d expressed joy while hugging her, but the instant her feet exited my classroom, it happened, like I’d just popped the top on a shaken Diet Coke, the maternal longing liquefied into carbonated soda now bubbling over.

Apart from rare occurrences like this, school is typically a safe zone for the mama overdrive.  We don’t birth teenagers.  My students have been molded and nurtured and directed when they get to me.  I tend to their minds for a year or more if I’m lucky.  I remember last year when one of my kids told me she wasn’t going to be able to participate in the yearbook in the fall.  Young Beauty knew I’d be disappointed, though I doubt she suspected it was neither her editing nor leadership skills that I would miss.  It was her presence.

Her genuine laugh lifted the mood of my classroom.  She’d make a delightful protagonist in a modern day fairy tale, her big, trusting heart likely finding a central conflict.   When I first wrote her into my weekly annals, I said she was “Beauty before she met the beast, head in the clouds, knowledge in her hands, ever aware there’s something more beyond her reach. “  I would miss seeing her every other day.

Her conflict with Yearbook was participating in a Pharmacy Tech program at a partnering technical education center off-campus.  As it turns out, now I see her every day.  The bus brings her back to school well before her next class, and Young Beauty spends that time in my room.  She keeps her things in there and uses my microwave.  Sometimes we talk.  When AP assignments abound, we just work in silence.  I wonder if she realizes I just like having her around, even if when we’re not engaged in conversation.  Then again, I’m sure she has an assigned locker, so maybe she likes seeing me every day, too.

I told Young Beauty once that if I had a daughter, I hoped she would be just like her.  In a Grimm’s Brother’s tale, she’d be the hero whose goodness and virtue would thwart the villain.  That’s the character I’d hope my own offspring would embody.  Young Beauty, though, is almost grown, a product of nature and nurture, no doubt. I can imagine what she was like as a child, wide eyed and hopeful to a fault.  It’s safe to imagine that because this takes place at school, in the safe zone.

But give me four hours with four boys under the age of ten on a Saturday at The Pentagon, and all bets are off.  Friends of Charming’s from Wheaton days had reached out to him about giving their kids a tour of his work before their upcoming cross-country move.  It was a D.C. weekend for me, so I was happy to see some familiar faces from college and get to hear Charming’s tour narration again.

That maternal wave hit as a hurricane just after the 9-11 Memorial in the Chapel at The Pentagon.  These four boys were as unique as the four elements.  Each, so young, had his own presence, mind, and interests.  Their eldest reminded me of my oldest brother so much so that I almost predicted aloud he’d be a doctor someday.   Whether they will choose a Pharmacy Tech program or Wheaton College is still a decade off at least.  Like with my toddler nieces, I couldn’t help but guess at what sports they’ll play and what careers they’ll pursue.  Their futures are still a blank slate.

That blank slate is incredibly beautiful to me.  It’s what I began from last week in my garden.  I started with 144 tiny pods of soil, carefully counting out three seeds for each hole, then gently covering them with peat.  I labeled the rows with markers detailing sowing, germination, and harvest dates.  It was systematic.  Long after the sun had set, I was on the couch, night after night, having transformed the coffee table into a seeding station.

I can’t expect life to emerge from every hole, though I hope it will.  Some green sprouts have surfaced, but most are still in nature’s womb, fighting to exist beyond seed.  I do know, however, what will bloom if life does take root.  The future of each seed was predetermined.  It’s clearly labeled which seedlings will someday yield cherry tomatoes or Johnny Jump Ups.  Planting a garden is the kind of investment that I can get excited about because those hours where I would be at Little League games I can spend nourishing something.  They won’t ever choose a Pharmacy Tech program, but they’ll be fruitful and beautiful and bountiful if fulfill my role and responsibilities.

I think I’ve been craving the garden because I need to see something grow because of me.

I’m doubling the size of my vegetable garden this year, and staring from seeds is a new venture for me.  I transformed my guest room into a modest greenhouse.  When I drove up to see Charming Friday night, I worried about leaving my new seeds unattended.  I’d closed the door, hoping to keep the heat in.  I’d secured the domes, hoping to keep the moisture in.  They’d be fine for two days, I assured myself.

 

I was back in Hampton the next night, earlier than planned.  After our tour of The Pentagon, we had lunch with our friends and their kids, and we had even enjoyed a nice afternoon nap which is rare for me.  Waking up, I still felt the stickiness that maternal drive’s carbonated bubbles had left that morning.  What would my children be like?  Who would they become?  What character?  What talents?  What interests?

Outside the safety of my classroom, dreaming is dangerous.  I told Charming I didn’t know how long I could wait for him to choose to marry me.  It was a logical progression for me.  What will my children be like?  I don’t have any children, and I won’t have any children until I get married, and I won’t get married if Charming doesn’t decide I’m the one.  Hoping to stifle a budding resentment, I opted to head home early, agreeing to spend some time in prayer before his visit next weekend.

There were tiny green shoots waiting for me in my guest room.  I was so excited I purchased more materials the next day and started another 144 seedlings.  Where the dead old oak tree’s remains sat for months, I finally planted new grass.  I’ve lost count of my hours in the garden this week.  The soil and the seeds make sense to me.  Toiling in the ground, sweat on my brow, head down, I focus on doing what I know to do to make good life grow.

I imagine that I’ll do the same if the stars align and see me raising a Young Beauty of my own.  Without any labels, the surprises of who she will become will delight me whether she’s like Young Beauty or not.   I pray for that season.  I pray for the stars to align.

I work in the garden, and in the garden, I pray for the future.  For life, blossoms, and harvest.

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Captain in the Sunset

Sunday afternoon was too cold, the morning too dark.  We were heading north after a weekend in the Outer Banks when Mom called.  Dad was reading the obituaries again.  All it offered was that he’d died peacefully in the hospital after a brief illness. Charming pulled off the highway when he saw my reaction to her words.  Dr. Bogin was dead.

My high school Spanish teacher died recently, and Dad, having read her obituary, hadn’t needed to break the news lightly.  She’d openly disliked me and essentially ruined my cultural experience with a foreign language such that I abandoned it until an adjunct professor, Joey Warner, just passing through Belmont, rekindled a four-year dead passion.  I made it my minor.  I went to Spain.

People influence us, whether we’re open to the subsequent changes or not.  Knee deep in Dead Poets Society, my students and I are engaging in freewrites and discussions about choice, the role of authority in shaping adolescents, the struggle between tradition and non-conformity, and the reality and far-reaching effects of suicide.  We celebrate this fictional inspirational teacher for his unorthodox methods.  Mr. Keating promises his Ivy League bound protégés to think for themselves.

My high school Spanish teacher was probably too taxed by an unruly class to reel me back in.  She separated me from my friends because I was chatty.  What I saw as a punishment was probably a strategy to help me focus.  What I saw as harsh grading was probably just the presence of higher expectations than I had for myself.  Unfortunately, I heard constant negative feedback absent praise, and that was where she left me uninspired.  I’m sorry for her family’s loss.  Many students must have liked her.  In that final scene of Dead Poets Society, not all the boys are standing on their desks saluting their fallen captain.

I’ll remember Joey Warner, and I’ll praise him.  I wouldn’t understand it until I was myself a teacher, grateful in my first semester to have Jesse Wooten in my class.  When it seemed I’d lost their interest, Jesse would catch one of my sarcastic quips and I knew he was still with me.  He gave me energy.  Professor Warner once told me I’d done that for him.  I hung on every word of his tales about travels to Spanish-speaking countries, his beautiful Latin ex-girlfriend, and being tricked into eating fish eye tacos.

I didn’t shed a tear last week when Dad broke the news about my high school Spanish teacher.  It was at least five minutes after I’d hung up with my Mom on Sunday until I could choke out instructions that Charming should keep driving.  Dr. Bogin was dead at seventy.  I didn’t know he’d been sick.

The Mr. Keatings in our lives are the ones that help us learn how to make wise decisions for ourselves.  They draw out of us the approval and advice we so long to gain from them.  I’ve had the pleasure of a few Mr. Keatings in education, but Dr. Bogin was appointed for a season long after my schooling had ended.

It was about this time four years ago that I left Nashville, moved back in to my high school bedroom, and my mom thought to put in a call to Dr. Bogin’s office.  He was a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychiatry at Upstate Medical University who had worked with my brother a decade before.  The receptionist informed us he was not taking new patients, but Dr. Bogin recognized the name on the message and fit me in before work.  For a few months, I only left the house for our weekly sessions, the gym, and engagements my parents had scheduled.

I didn’t want to talk in our first session.  I didn’t have high expectations.  There were no highs.  I’d abandoned my marriage and my career and my home.  I was thirty.  I would soon be divorced.  The frilly floral comforter and lace canopy bed reminded me each morning of my failures.  I’d seen counselors before.  I was in that office because he’d made a positive impact in my brother’s life during his dark night.  This was mine.  Dr. Bogin could possibly pull me out of it, too.

I sought his approval, his advice, his judgment even.  Dr. Bogin’s clinical gift was in his ability to draw approval and advice and judgment out of me, such that I was confident in my choices.  Like Keating did with the boys in boarding school English class, Dr. Bogin questioned me and challenged me.  I spent a year and a half on his office love seat; it was the primary location where I crocheted my nieces’ baby afghans while we talked.  It was more of a dialogue than you’d think.

I didn’t always want to “go there”.  Dr. Bogin would let me sit in silence.  His presence, there behind his desk in those round-rimmed glasses you’d expect a psychologist to wear, was oddly patient and simultaneously expectant.  There were nights I’d leave his office and drive into the city streets in a much deeper darkness than that which surrounded me.  Those became fewer.  I found in our journey together that I had become more capable of making choices again, choices I would not regret.  I even dared to move away.  To start over.

The night before I left for Hampton was our last session.  July of 2014.  When we said goodbye, Dr. Bogin offered to do Skype sessions if I ever needed them and asked me to keep in touch.  A new life kept me distant.  My writing nights two years ago took shape, replacing our Tuesday night sessions back in Syracuse as a form of self-therapy largely possible because Dr. Bogin’s voice is still in my head.  Mr. Keating challenged his students to stand on his desk, to see the world from a different perspective.  Dr. Bogin taught me, through hundreds of hours of investment, that significant reflection would lead me to those alternate perspectives holding the answers I would find myself.

This is a fallen hero.  If I could stand on that office love seat and salute him, to honor him, I would.  I didn’t know he was sick.  He’s dead.  A light has gone out of this city in Upstate New York.  There should be a snowstorm like in one of the final scenes of Dead Poets Society when Todd runs out into the freshly fallen snow.  It’s a symbol in context.  Not of purity or beauty or a clean slate.  It’s a symbol of death.  Of nothingness.  Of the consequences of choices.

I would see Dr. Bogin again only one more time.  The summer before last I received an email from him when I was visiting my parents for my sister-in-law’s baby shower.  He’d seen my car in the driveway and invited me over to talk.  It turns out I shouldn’t have needed an address.  For years, he’d lived a stone’s throw away.  From his house, I could see my driveway.  He guided me through a beautifully manicured backyard to a patio table.

This was not a paid session.  There was no desk between us.  Dr. Bogin had invested in me, and he genuinely wanted to see the outcome.  I don’t believe he ever said the words, not even on that day, always careful to suspend any hint of moral or spiritual judgment, but somehow I knew in his deference toward me that he was proud of me.  I told him then that he’d changed my life.  At least those words weren’t left unsaid.

I don’t want a snowstorm to be the symbol for Dr. Bogin’s death.  No, for me, I make another choice.  I choose to see the sunset the night before I got the news, a moment when I had no reason to assume he no longer drew breath.  We were in Duck with Charming’s parents.  The sun set over the Sound.  It was cold.  It was equally beautiful.  It took my breath away, too.

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Dr. Bogin’s death is a sunset in March.  This sun sets on a life lived fully, richly, compassionately.  It is cold, but it is equally beautiful.  The end of the day has a fixed and promised end, yet an unexpected passing is equally unchangeable.  I grieve him, and I honor him in the only way I know how.

I do what he taught me to do.  In my writing, I process the pain and the affection.  I weigh the loss and tragedy against the view from on top of the teacher’s desk.  I expect tragedy and find myself looking for peace in a sunset on the Sound.  Dr. Bogin’s still guiding me in the silences.

Now, in the symbol of the sunset, I say goodbye for the last time.  Oh Captain, my Captain.

 

Dennis Bogin PhD (January 19, 1947 – March 09, 2017)

In the Reflection

Wheaton came to Washington Saturday night, specifically to an alumni event hosted at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.  I was under-dressed for the first time in my life, Charming having overridden my explanation of business casual, opting for jeans.  That wasn’t the only thing singling us out – it was our singleness, too, and the absence of funny stories about our house and our kids.

We don’t have any.  That didn’t bother me when we first arrived.  We exchanged photo ops with an older couple at the model of the sign in front of Blanchard Hall back on campus.  The wife was a kindergarten teacher.  They had graduated before I was born.  I’d hoped we’d sit with them.  Grey hair comes with wisdom; often, simple life anecdotes teach me a lesson when traded across a few decades.

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Then a friend of Charming’s arrived, and our conversations were redirected to the beach ball sized bump covered by her classy, black cocktail dress and explanations that her husband was home with their toddler.  We lost track of the intriguing older pair until the event was concluding.  Instead, we found a table with room for Charming’s friend and her mother on our right.

To our left was an enchanting young woman in a gorgeous dress with a floral pattern that made me steal third and fourth looks at an inconspicuous bump unbefitting her slender frame.  I tried to hide my jeans under the tablecloth, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as this couple concealing their early pregnancy.  She couldn’t have been thirty yet, and the way her husband doted on her, alternating between taking her hand and rubbing her back hinted at the early years of a marriage.

There must have been more than a hundred people there, alums from the ages.  We’d met a few in passing who’d hailed time in Wheaton fifty years ago.  But we had to sit at this table, between two twenty-somethings glowing in their second and third trimesters, adding to the growing family at home somewhere, looking fabulous in their business casual attire and confident in their wedding bands.

Okay, so I might have imagined some of that confidence, but by the second course of the meal and the third helpings of these ladies’ stories about their kids and careers and marriages and moves, I excused myself to the ladies’ room, ironically to escape the estrogen.  Theirs or mine, I couldn’t be sure, but I lamented the hand dryer, wishing for paper towels to make a cool rag for my forehead.

Suffering would be the topic of our sermon the next morning.  Suffering would be the focus of a YouTube video Chuck would share with me in the days to come.  In that ladies’ room, I was suffering.  I was simultaneously telling myself that I should not, in fact, be suffering.  I have incredible students, a school I love to serve, family members I can count on, and a smart, handsome guy for weekend adventures. So, why was I suffering?  I looked in the bathroom mirror half expecting to have turned green from the seething, unwelcomed jealousy over the well-dressed baby machines.

Instead, I saw me in my jeans, make-up smeared, the bump above my jeans simply the product of too many French fries.  The suffering, whether warranted by my life circumstances or not, whether justifiable on a measuring scale of severity of life’s heartbreaks or not, was real.  The suffering was real, and it was tangible, and it had manifested itself as this reflection in the bathroom mirror.

I saw all that I wasn’t and imagined all that I should be.  I should have been wearing a simple black dress.  I should have a band on my left ring finger.  I should have a genuine baby bump or a toddler in my arms to finally make use of these Italian hips.  So, selfish right?  Here we are, knee deep in an elegant affair aimed at raising awareness of and funds for these meaningful, life-changing improvements to a university that will afford exponential growth for both students and those they’ll serve in this mission… and I am, once again, wallowing in self-pity over the reward God has chosen to withhold from me.

By the time I returned to Charming and the rest of the table, the speakers had begun and I was spared further self-issued comparisons (except during a hymn, when I mentally noted that the voice to my left was like an angel, while my sore throat could barely crack out the melody).  I focused on the program.  I listened.  I wished I made more money so that I could give to any cause that had need.  I admired Charming for his spirit of generosity, but in those jeans at that table, I found myself envying him, too.

At Restore Church in Silver Spring the next day, Andy McNeely gave a sermon entitled, “Through the Night”.  He presented Jesus’ struggle in the garden before being crucified to illustrate that God has a purpose in suffering.  When our suffering, whether the result of our own sin or another’s, finds us alone in the wilderness, we are to lean into God as Christ does.

I found my mind wandering to another verse, the denotation of my self-acclaimed Achilles’ heel.   Paul had written that he had been given a thorn in his flesh that humbled him.  My temper has always humbled me.  I can never be an “incredible” communicator whilst it dictates me, and it has served as commander in chief over my relationships since my toddler personality emerged.

That one I understand, because it’s suffering that I caused.  I could have prevented it.  It’s easy to explain, and thereby easier to work through.  I can make plans to hold my tongue in the future.  I can read Psalms and pray for God to put a guard over the door of my mouth.  I can strategize and plan and scheme for less suffering in the days to come.

This suffering induced by the reality that I may never give birth, induced or otherwise, can’t be connected by any lines effectively concluding my sin was the cause.  Is it, then, the cause of another?  Unfortunately for Charming, my Achilles’ heel stomps most ferociously when I’m most broken in this specific state of suffering, where sheer irritability finds it’s easiest to attribute fault for current failures to his snail’s pace.  This longing for motherhood is an Achilles’ heel in its infancy; I don’t have strategies to evade its ugly byproducts.

Earlier today, my gym mentor Chuck shared a video by Elevation Church.  They’d taken lines of Pastor Steven Furtick’s sermons in a series about Jacob and combined them with images and music.  The impact was powerful and immediate.  As the tempo mounts, he recounts in Exodus when God appears to Moses.  When asked who Moses should say has sent him, the Lord replies, “I Am who I Am.”

That was how I remembered it, too; however, the video went on to acknowledge what comes next, that God says He was not just the God of their fathers or of Abraham or Isaac, but that He was the God of Jacob.  Pastor Furtick imagined aloud what He believed God was emphasizing by including Jacob, saying,  “I’m the God of Jacob, too.  I’m the God of that part of you that you don’t want anybody to see.  I’m not just the God of your success.  I’m the God of your struggle.”

Once again, Chuck had me moved to tears on that elliptical at Planet Fitness.  I registered it.  That struggle.  That part of me I don’t want anybody to see.  It’s what I saw in the mirror in the bathroom at the Mellon Auditorium.  The suffering is real, but He is the God of my struggle.

I saw that there was purpose in this suffering.  I wrote it here in white wicker loveseat weeks ago.  I knew that I was supposed to be here.  When I walked into that event on Saturday in jeans, that backdrop of Blanchard Hall jilted me.  I remembered like it was yesterday the way we’d climbed up the stone wall to grab a photo op on our road trip to Wheaton last summer.  I recalled looking down at the pathways that had led us to one another and seeing purpose in both of our suffering.

Now, seven months later, posing in front of the imitation, I see the same pathways, just seven months longer.  They’re meandering, no discernible destination yet.  There is no direct route to family for us just as there is no direct route out of suffering for me.  Like our Wheaton road trip, the value can’t be weighed solely in having reached a destination.  It was the moments in the states along the way with my brother’s family, Charming’s friends, Mulan, and baseball games that earned the journey significance in my mind.

Tonight, I don’t have answers for the green monster of envy.  I just keep hearing Pastor Furtick’s words, “I’m the God of Jacob, too.  I’m the God of your struggle.”

What I see in the mirror is what I am.  And I suffer.  The God of Jacob sees what He will redeem.  And I dare, again, to dream.