Monday, November 28, 2005

Facing my Doubts: Losing My Religion

EIGHT years ago today, at about this time, I was a completely different person – body, heart, and mind. Today, I find myself down, distracted. On what for so many years was set aside as my annual day of mourning (read: excessive wallowing in self-pity) when I grieved the loss of the version of myself that I once was, today is little more than the otherwise usual, altogether typical, dog-eat-dog day at the office. I’m not thinking about the accident – not dwelling as I otherwise would. I’m merely taking in what is and what has been my life. Even still - and much like the Weight Watchers frozen meal that now sits in my stomach like a weight of bricks - so much of it is hard to digest.

I fear that I may be on the verge of losing the one thing I’ve held dear as a result of the accident and so many other obstacles I can’t yet bring myself to write about. I fear that I may be losing my religion, the very faith that sustained me through times of trouble.

Last night, when confronted with this admission on my part, M directed my attention to a passage in an old-time favorite C.S. Lewis novel of mine.

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so absent a help in our time of trouble?”

The trouble for me is that I’ve not reached out in desperate need in quite some time, it seems. Perhaps, I’ve grown so independent in these past few trials that I’ve ceased to see Him as sufficient. All that was magical and awesome about my faith seems to have faded. For whatever reason – probably a fault that is my own – my joy is gone. I am doubtful for the first time in a very long time.

Almost two years ago, I was hospitalized for a month after a failed attempt to correct my spine surgically. I become isolated and despondent. My Bible was little more than a decoration on the window sill aside my bed. My only prayer was that I wouldn’t wake to face another day of captivity on the unit. And then God bowed to my requests, to show me the error of my heart’s desire. I flat-lined. Having been given too large a dose of methadone, which I’d been overmedicated on for days on account of the pain, on the same day I felt too sick to sustain any interaction, when I’d called everyone I could imagine had the faintest desire to visit that night and asked them to refrain, my heart stopped; I stopped breathing. By what I could only then describe as an act of God’s grace, my sister, who had not received my message and decided to take the two hour-long drive to the hospital with less than half an hour before the end of visiting hours, found me in that state and alerted the nurses' station who sent in a crash team immediately to revive me.

In what I could only describe as the stuff of my darkest and most disturbing nightmares, I was woken to the bright lights blinding my eyes, the white masks, the feeling of needles prodding my arms and legs trying to open up any vein that might be salvaged. I can still recall the cold burning of the narcane that surged through my body as I screamed at the doctors to please stop to no avail, and the hours spent undergoing all sorts of probing tests to see how much damage the overdose had caused. During that entire time of lingering uncertainty, the only thing that seemed certain was that God had made me eat my words and that it was nothing less than a miracle that had allowed me to live to regret them.

For two years, that story was my main defense to anyone who tried to argue with me as to whether or not God, in fact, exists. But now, even that story fails to do more than bring back painful and haunting memories I’d rather leave to the past. I feel so cut off from God. I feel so uncertain, so much like C.S. Lewis describes, only I have no specific cause for grief. Perhaps the problem is that I’m feeling too much. M said that faith and God are not proved by feeling. Yet, I long to feel faith and hope and joy as I used to.

Right now, all I can feel is the brace on my back that digs into my ribs, the pain that runs sharp into my legs and dull into my feet, the minutes that drag on like hours and force me to be here when I’d prefer to be anyplace else. Perhaps it would be better if I didn’t feel at all. Still, I can’t help but let what I feel (or don’t feel, in this case) affect what I know. I can only hope (and I do think there is still some left) that whatever it was that has gone returns. But I can’t help but fear – it is me that has turned away.

When God has been so faithful, how dare I be so faithless? But however doubtful I've become, I still believe, He'll show Himself again somehow -- hopefully by more subtle means this time...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Walk Has Changed

This is my last week as a 23 year old. Nevertheless, because of how much pain I’ve been in as of late, I’ve been walking around more like an 83 year old. My grandma calls this “waddling” and I must agree, my daily walk has been a lot more like “March of the Penguins” than I would like.

In a week, it will be 8 years since the accident. Oftentimes, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was getting ready for my Sweet 16 when one random mistake – one split second – one wrong turn changed my course in life forever.

I still remember the way the rain felt against my face that morning. We’d been in such a hurry to get everything prepared for “my big day” – a party that my mom could scarcely afford but was determined to give me – that we never could have imagined that our haste would be so costly.

I had just gotten my nails done and was more concerned with examining them than helping my mother find her way to the hair salon. My two sisters were in the back seat and were carrying on loudly with my mother, who was lost. “Turn left.” “No, turn right.” “I’m sure it’s left.” “We’re gonna be late.” My mother quickly turned left, speeding through the rain, anxious to get me to my appointment on time. None of us saw the signs that indicated we had gone the wrong way on a three lane highway. But in a few short seconds that played on like hours, we saw the car speeding towards us, swerving between the lanes ahead of us and we all understood the terrible mistake that had just been made. I turned to the center of the car, put my hands against my sisters’ chests, fearful that they would come through the middle of the car, yet still, I could see what was about to happen. As if I had experienced it in slow motion, I felt the impact of the cars crashing, heard the metal crushing into metal, felt my head crash against the windshield. And then, everything went dark.

I opened my eyes and heard my mother and sisters screaming and crying. “Nancy, open your eyes. Look at me,” they yelled, but I could barely lift my head. I finally looked up and saw that the windshield was broken. Light was streaming in through the cracks that spread like a spider web through the glass. As I tried to lift my hand to touch it, I felt the pain rush down my neck into my back and down my arms and legs -- a pain that would stay with me for 8 long years, cause my confinement for 2 long months and ultimately result in a series of spinal surgeries that proved unsuccessful at helping in any way. In one moment, all of the things that I had come to love so much: cheerleading, swimming, softball, gymnastics, rollerblading, and simply running up the stairs, were taken from me. Worse than this, and aside from the physical changes I suffered, I lost my hope. I forgot God. I was angry and hopeless.

It has been many years since that accident and still I try to put the pieces back together of why it had to happen. The pain oftentimes seems so unnecessary. And I ask myself daily: What is God trying to show me through this? Though I still grasp for answers, I realize I have learned a lot. I’m older and wiser now, and though the pain of the past still follows me, there is not one step I take that does not remind me of how far I’ve come --all because of God’s grace, all because I am walking with Him. And I thank God for every step I'm able to take. My walk has surely changed, but I am stronger for it. And I am thankful.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Facing my Fears... Head-on

Over the last week, I did two things that I swore I’d never do: cut my hair off, and drove a car.

Yes, it’s true. I have an unhealthy fear of driving and short haircuts. It all dates back to a couple of scarring childhood experiences: a shearing of mythic proportions at a salon named “Little Princesses” that cut my hair (which was down to my feet) up to my ears - and a head-on collision that left me physically damaged for the last 8 years.

Nevertheless, this past week, I faced those fears head-on (no puns intended) and surprisingly, neither was as horrifying as I’d imagined they would be. In fact, after both instances, I felt a lot better about myself and the world. I had done two things I could never have imagined doing and the results had been relatively successful. (I didn’t cry after either, and amazingly, no one was injured or killed!)

As I sat in the front seat of M’s Chevy, a location in a car I’d boycotted my entire life (even when asked to sit double-parked in case a policeman came– a cause of many a fight with my parents), I kept my foot pinned down to the brake and took a deep breath. “Take your foot off the brake,” M said patiently. “No,” I shot back. “Nan, you have to take your foot off the brake,” he repeated. “No,” I blurted out again, “I have to sit here for a little bit.” I sat waiting. “Nan, come on” M started again, chuckling a little.

Didn’t he realize what a huge deal this was? That I was taking my (not to mention HIS) life into my hands and doing the very thing I swore up and down for 8 years I would never ever EVER do? I had to laugh a little myself. “Will you say a prayer?” I said, turning to him, pressing down even harder on the brake, in an attempt to buy more time. “No, I will not pray about this,” M said, “You know, right now, God is watching this and He’s laughing at you.” He joked. We had a good laugh, but it brought me no closer to moving my foot in any way.

Eventually, I had to give up and take my chances at the wheel which had (perhaps too trustingly) been put in my hands. I let up on the brake and felt the car creeping forward up the road. I held on tight to the steering wheel as though it would fly away if I lost my grip. I felt like a little old lady moving at a snail's pace down the road, clinging to the wheel and turning it ever so slightly to stay within the lines. My first time, I made it up to a massive 25 miles an hour!

What? It was my first time!

On our second attempt, I was more poised. I felt more confident that the car would obey me and I didn’t freak out. Eventually, I got up to 50 miles an hour! There were no casualties! No small animals or children were injured, nor were any trees unnecessarily mowed down! I DROVE and I lived to tell about it.

Who ever would have thought?!

Certainly not me… though I must say that M did not seem altogether surprised. It just goes to show that a little faith goes a long way. In this case, a couple of miles, and as for next time… one can only imagine how far!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


“I keep asking myself why all of this happened,” the letter read, “but you see… I already know the answer. God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”

When M and I first met, that song was in my head constantly. We’d walk around together singing it everyday as though we were rehearsing for some upcoming performance. Never though, did I realize how true the words in the song would eventually become for us.

“Every long lost dream led me to where you are…”

I met M in the depths of a debilitating illness. My life had hit rock bottom. I had stopped praying, no longer trusting God’s faithfulness. I had no hope for the future. Suddenly, all the verses that I’d so often focused on about the promises “not for destruction, but for a future and a hope” seemed to return void. At a time in my life where it seemed that all was irrevocably lost, I found M.

“I think about the years I spent just passing through. I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you. But you just smile and take my hand - You’ve been there you understand - It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true…”

M was in a similar situation. He had lost his visitation rights to his daughter and a great deal of his hope for the future. Having reached a similar conclusion about his life that I had, he too was ready to give up. In two separate devastating turns of events in both of our lives, our paths were made to cross. And together, we not only found the hope we had lost in God, but the desire we had lost in life.

“Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars, pointing me on my way into your loving arms…”

In a few short months, my life changed so drastically. It was as if I’d been reborn. Suddenly, everything in my past that had brought me pain seemed so worthwhile because it had brought me to this point. That was the same realization that M came to while he was in jail. “Everything I’ve done caused me to meet you, so I am grateful for all of it,” he wrote. I never thought I’d feel that way, but God proved so faithful to us both, and even as we were so faithless and doubtful, he blessed us so immensely.

“This much I know is true… that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”

For where we’ve been and what we’ve been through, I am that much more grateful to be where I stand. I am blessed.