Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On pain, cartoon Jesus, and redemption

I listened to an old Johnny Cash song this evening at church. I sat in the room where four and five year olds usually congregate, surrounded by cartoons of Jesus and celebrations of spring, listening to a deep voice recant self-inflicted pain and the need to feel—something, anything.

It is a morbid song, with a haunting rhythm, that felt appallingly out of place in a basement classroom in chairs that sit a foot off the ground. A woman shared this song with me because she felt it described her own experience, her own “hurt”. We both sat in silence as the song played out, faces lit by a darkening overcast sky, sound punctuated by laughing children and conversing adults gathering upstairs.

I have never physically cut or hurt myself intentionally, but I have definitely had my moments of hurt. Moments where crying doesn’t express the pain enough, where words cannot express the pain enough, where nothing seems to capture how deep the wounds truly travel. And in those moments, I didn’t hurt myself; I just quit trying to express it. And moments turned into weeks, and months and years. And crying became a thing of the past.

When the song was finished I wanted to stay in the room and talk, discuss how she came to connect with this song, what she wishes people understood about her hurt, and how she deals with her pain now. Because her pain has continued and even worsened, depending on whom you ask. Her life has been simplified into pain treatments by the week, needed to manage the pressure on fluid on her brain. Her prayer requests are surprisingly few, but the distraction in her eyes cannot be missed. She hurts, a lot, all the time, yet she is warm with everyone to whom she speaks. She bemoans the distraction the pain—and pain medication—inflicts on her life, and yet seems more focused that I am because she is not concerned and preoccupied with a million different things. The pain has made her life so simple, has created such focus, and yet is still...hurt.

Interesting silver lining.

I’m pretty sure this woman, whose pain has spanned nearly her entire life, would never choose the mess of health and family issues she has had to endure. I’m sure most of us wouldn’t choose our saddest moments for all their silver lining. But listening to that song, full of despair, reminded me that to forget redemption is to be surrounded by darkness.

“I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real...everyone I know goes away in the end, and you could have it all, my empire of dirt.”

Or, as my friend said as we left the world of preschool Sunday school, “my empire of shit.”

I am so thankful for redemption, at some moments more than others. Surrounded by the plastic smell of her pain treated skin, grey from the cloudy evening sky, I was very thankful for grace in moments I don’t expect, and the immeasurable promise of heaven.

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