“I’m not going anywhere.”
I can’t remember the exact details of when and why my husband spoke those words.
He’s since spoken them countless ways and at key times when my heart had longed for reassurance. He wasn’t going anywhere when we found out we were pregnant, before marriage, at the age 23. He wasn’t going anywhere after he learned about the darkest stories of my past or my biggest mistakes. It’s been a consistent message written on notes, or during fights (even though sometimes in those moments I wish he would go somewhere.)
Then, there was a moment I needed to hear it most.
I was in a time of deep despair as I had grown sick overnight, it seemed. Within only a month’s time, I had lost over 20 pounds, became frail with inflamed joints and experienced debilitating fatigue. As the doctors were trying to figure out a diagnosis, fear tormented me. I was in a place of not knowing how it would turn out.
Just a few short years before this, I was playing college basketball and now, after sitting too long with crossed legs, I couldn’t walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and it broke me. Overwhelming pain shot through my legs, the extension and attempt to bear weight caused me to feel as though my bones would break.
It’s not that I hadn’t known pain. I had given birth, twice. I had had a few ACL surgeries. The exhaustion of this new and unknown chronic pain was what frightened me. At 26 years old, I was grieving the very real loss of my body. How would I, with two small children, take care of them if I could barely get off the couch and get my own damn water? And that’s when I went into a frenzy.
I began screaming, like some kind of animal, a guttural rage spewed as the pain of my body and grief overtook me. I threw my empty glass down, across the floor. I started punching, hitting things around me. My final wail ended with me weeping- I broke- and with it my bladder lost control, peed my adult self, a pile on the floor, I wept.
I’ve never encountered Emmanuel, God with me, more than the moment after my tantrum. My husband Adam came and gently approached me. First, he sat on a chair, and as I looked up at him, exhausted and in another state of mind, I could have sworn I saw the face of Christ shining through his face. It was a holy and bizarre moment.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered.
I looked into his eyes and wept.
He sat on the floor. I was not only covered in my own piss, but my embarrassment. If sitting next to me wasn’t enough, Adam came and physically picked me up and sat me on his lap. This was the moment I completely unraveled, even more than I already had.
Throughout the process of getting sick with all the fears of the unknown, my question had been, “Where was God in my story?” And then, in a moment, through the compassion of my husband, I was held by a living God with flesh and bones. I realized then that Love had been sitting with me, in my anger, story of loss, bodily functions, fear of the unknown and pain all along. I just couldn’t see it because I was so focused on my loss. Yet, this was the beginning of a breaking open that led me to a deeper healing.
I eventually received a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease called, Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (say that 5 times fast). I can’t help but see how it took this disease to force me to slow down and listen to my pain. It caused me to pay attention to how very disconnected I was from my own body. It was the very thing that led me down a road to learn about embodiment and self friendship. If it were not for the autoimmune disease, I would not know healing from past trauma or intimately know the way suffering expands us, like I do now.
Collectively, we find ourselves in a place of not knowing where this is all going, not knowing how this will turn out. We’ve never felt this level of pain and it’s disorienting to get up and walk. Yet I invite us to face the depth of our collective loss. Go all the way in. Sit in the struggle, name the fears and anger, let out our guttural cries and maybe there, remember the story never ends in the piss pile on the kitchen floor. May we find a living God holding us all, reminding us in our grief that He is not going anywhere. We will rise from this and remember this was a time that broke us open to lead us to a deeper healing. May we trust that even this suffering will expand us all.
“Great love and great suffering bring us back to God.” -Richard Rohr