The Fellowship of the Suffering

The Fellowship of the Suffering

Two weeks ago, I was a beaming face of hospitality at the welcome center of our little, crisp church. I greeted members and guests by name with exuberance and Christmas cheer. I wore my favorite red dress and made sure that I was an approachable presence for our parishioners and neighbors. I was sick, desperate for healing, but on Sundays, I strove to present myself as a picture of health and vitality.

I sit now, experiencing a different form of fellowship. I have identified this as the fellowship of the suffering. We are huddled in a group room of an inpatient unit for adults with eating disorders. It is Christmas night. The lights are glimmering on Christmas trees somewhere, and families are celebrating in distant living rooms somewhere other than where we are. A token wreathe and a menorah decorate our unit. Staff has confiscated my makeup and hair products, proving them to be futile. We are stripped to the bare minimum of our selves. Sweats and Pajama bottoms are the norm, even on this night where the world celebrates. We play a haphazard game of Scattergories, filling the anxious space where we all feel the agony of the unknown. Will we heal? Is there hope? We await our Christmas dinner, served on hospital trays in portions that stretch our refeeding bellies to the edge of their physical limits, as they monitor our phosphorous levels, making sure that the food isn’t actually going to kill us rather than heal us. I exchange anguished glances with these new friends, relationships forged through the furnace of the initial agonizing steps of physical recovery. We hold hands as we dangle on the edges of medical instability and emotional uncertainty. We, the broken, the underweight, the malnourished, the sick, look out the narrow windows of our fifth floor unit to the twinkling lights lining the down town streets below us. Many tears have been shed today, and with our masks forced off, we sit, barefaced, without pretense. Some of us lean into the vulnerability, opening up in ways that we thought were off limits. In our fellowship of the suffering, we have an unspoken understanding that our socioeconomic statuses are of little significance. Our degrees, job titles, and achievements sit piled in the admissions office, waiting for us to pick them back up at discharge. For now, for this evening, we sit on even ground.

Not everyone has this unique “opportunity.” I am not sure how to replicate it in the real world, but on this Christmas night, I am encouraged with the though that Jesus would be inclined to check in as a visitor to our little locked unit. He, “God with us,” gravitated to the uncomfortable situations of suffering and agony. He would pull up a chair to our “Christmas feast,” where individuals sit wide-eyed, staring at the daunting plates of turkey and sweet potatoes in front of them.

I sit with the suffering, and I think back again to two weeks ago. I forgot about the importance of transparency. I forgot about the joy of journeying the rocky road of life honestly with others. I forgot that being real is one of the best gifts that I can give Jesus, others, and myself. I am reminded of this here, in this obscenely unlikely Christmas “retreat.” With the weight of my accessories, achievements, and attachments lifted, I can breathe again. I can genuinely breathe life into the dead places in my heart, and I can connect genuinely with others.

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Two Under Two and Sanity

I am curled up on the couch, studying the baby monitor. One child is asleep in our bedroom. The toddler is chatting with her line up of animals in her crib. She’s been there for an hour and has yet to fall asleep. Nap time is sacred. It is my writing/reading time. When the children refuse naps, I teeter on the edge of insanity, and usually make a desperate, possibly angry call to the pastor husband. We (toddler, baby, and mommy) do the nap time dance. Sleep issues with one baby are difficult enough, but put two into the mix, and you race back and forth between rooms, evaluating which child is the most critically distressed. Two to three times a week, they both sleep soundly for a solid two to three hours, and I all but weep with joy and gratitude. The other days, I tenuously cling to the thin threads of sanity. I need time to pray, time to read, and time to write. I need time to be me, alone. Me stripped of the mother duties, just for an hour or so. I need to remember what makes me tick, what gives me joy, and what makes my heart throb, with the awareness that my family of course is central in my life.

Balance with babies and tots is so difficult, scratch that, nearly impossible. If you have difficulty asking for help, balance is even closer to completely impossible. Add extreme sleep deprivation to the mix, and I spend most of my days longing for just a few moments of clarity. Mostly, my life is like looking through a pair of glasses that have 18 layers of grime caked on them and trying to remember what the world looked like with clean lenses.

And now lent. Prayers for God to reveal His face in my crazy world. Emptying myself so that He can fill me more with Him. What have I to empty? Can my hazy consciousness even process a deeper awareness of His presence? I guess that this liturgical year, I am praying for a miracle. I am praying for God to strip me of my stubborn self-sufficiency and unwillingness to “burden” anyone with my stuff. I need help. I need support. I need my family and friends. With two children under two, I need extra help. Being in recovery from a long term eating disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression, I need help. It is okay to ask for it. It is okay to come to the end of myself. I acknowledge that my own power has limits, and community exists for a reason. We were created as communal creatures, and we, especially moms, were never meant to go through life self-sufficiently.

I would say that one of my greatest struggles with two tiny ones is figuring out how to carry them into places. Do you pull out your huge, bulky double-stroller to get into church, or do you try to haul a 25 pound carrier with infant in one arm and a 23 pound toddler who doesn’t yet understand “hold my hand” in the other? I am a wimp, so the second option is akin to running an ultra-marathon in my book. The third option is to take the nursery workers up on their offer and call their cell phones when I pull up to the church. They are happy to come out and help carry a baby. Why is it so difficult to simply allow people to help me? Instead, I strive to do it all on my own and slowly (or not-so-slowly) lose my sanity and sense of self. Then everyone suffers.

This season, I suppose, that as I try to strip off the unnecessary, I will let God fill me with community. I will open myself up to the aid of others who would so much love to enter into our lives anyway.