The School of Pain

I used to go to a bright school
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain.
One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can’t restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
There are two Teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be Love or Pain.
They tell me if I study well,
And learn my lessons, I shall be
Moved upward to that higher class
Where dear Love teaches constantly;
And I work hard, in hopes to gain
Reward, and get away from Pain.
Yet Pain is sometimes kind, and helps
Me on when I am very dull;
I thank him often in my heart;
But Love is far more beautiful;
Under her tender, gentle reign
I must learn faster than of Pain.
So I will do my very best,
Nor chide the clock, nor call it slow
That when the Teacher calls me up
To see if I am fit to go,
I may to Love’s high class attain,
And bid a sweet good-bye to Pain.
~ Susan Coolidge
When I was little, I used to love the What Katy Did books where the above poem can be found. As with so many things, I’ve wanted to adapt it slightly so that it becomes more grace filled than reward based but there’s still a whole host of things that have been helpful to me and that I’m grateful for.
I love metaphors. I love pictures. I love different ways of understanding reality. And I love the idea of a School of Pain and Love. Because life is about learning. And I just can’t stop learning, even if I wanted to. The Great Teacher is everywhere. His lessons are all around. I can learn in the quietness and stillness of a sleepless night. I can learn in the hustle and bustle of a tube train. I can learn in the laughter and joy on my nephew’s face. And I can even learn in Hospital Room 16.
And that’s where I’ve been. On my own little intensive course. The Teacher sent me off. Away from the comfort of my home and my husband and into a new environment with new and harder lessons. I know I haven’t learned the lessons that He has for me. But I’ve made a start. My handwriting’s still messy. I still can’t walk in a straight line. And you should see the way I mispronounce words. But over the course of 16 days in Room 16, I’ve begun learning lessons that last.
I’ve learned that a hospital room doesn’t have to be a place of spiritual barrenness. I’ve struggled with that in the past. They are some of the places that I’ve felt most alone. But it isn’t good for people to be alone. And so God showed himself to me in Room 16 and I knew I was truly loved. I’m not a very emotional person, the emotional capacity of a teaspoon is the way my family often describe it. But I cried more than once because I knew that my Father was with me right there in Room 16. 
I’ve learned to give thanks for small blessings. They’re always there, these small blessings. Even if they come in the form of having an IV line in my left arm instead of my right. Or being able to bless people in little ways – nurses like to be smiled at, cleaners like to be chatted to, catering staff like to be thanked.
I’ve learned the power of prayer. I had an inbox full of emails from people saying that they were praying. Some of the things we were praying for got answered with a no. But the power of prayer isn’t just about getting a yes. It’s about being able to ask in the first place. It’s about the joining of hearts and minds asking that God’s will be done. It’s about the encouragement that knowing people are praying can bring. And it’s about the privilege of talking to the King.
I’ve learned to say thank you. My thank you prayers are often hollow. But I thanked God for the suffering and meant it. I’m learning the joy that comes with saying, ‘Your will be done.’ Joy can be found in the strangest and hardest of places. But it’s worth it. 
I’m not perfect. Far from it. So far from it that God sent me to Room 16. I’m grumpy. I’m ungrateful. My refrain is often, ‘It’s not fair.’ I’m short-sighted. Don’t be fooled into thinking anything else. God is love. And I’m the loved. Wonderful, crazy love.
I need to keep learning these lessons. I know I have many intensive courses in my future. It may not be Room 16 but it’ll be somewhere. And right here, right now that scares me. But the lessons I began to learn in Room 16 are true. They are hard. They are big. But they are the lessons that my God has for me. And I’m here, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, learning them.

It gets harder…

It’s always a sign that things aren’t going well when the baby steps you take get even harder. Foetus steps isn’t a phrase and there’s a good reason for that! Marathons get harder and feel longer when you slow up.

Things took a turn for the worse in our house recently. It was pretty grim. It ended with a GP’s visit, a hospital appointment and a hospital bed. We found out a couple of days ago that if we hadn’t gone through the GP and had a hospital appointment, I would have been put onto a 5 week long waiting list. God never ceases to amaze.

And yet it makes me so ashamed that when God was sorting out my not having to wait for 5 weeks, I was complaining. ‘God, why am I so ill? What is this? Can’t we just have a year of marriage when things go smoothly? Ok, 3 months? Even better, just take CF away, Lord. I don’t want it. It’s not fair, surely you can see that.’ I’m called to trust in the small things and so often I’m blind and so often I’m ungrateful.

This little bout of illness has done two things, taken me into two phases.
The first is the realisation that life will never again be easy. I used to think it was. But I’m older now, a tiny bit wiser. And I know. I know when things aren’t going well. I know when life gets harder.
The second is the realisation that life will never be as wonderful as what’s coming. I watch people having babies and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun playing with the baby. I watch people playing sports and having fun and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun being a cheerleader. I watch people advancing in careers and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun listening to people’s stories and encouraging them.

There’s a reason we’re told that God does all things for our good. It’s because it’s true. And in tiny ways I’m being allowed to see this truth. Come and look through the cracks in life with me. Light seems brightest when it’s shining through a small crack. Walk into its glare and you’re dazzled. Better yet, sit down in the ray and bask in the warmth and light of our Father’s choices for us.

There’s a lot I can’t do. I can’t run, some days walking is hard. But I will outrun my illness. For now I can run metaphorically into the arms of my Saviour. I look forward to the day when I will physically run into Glory taking deep gulps of breath. And maybe even yell ‘Hooray!’ at the same time.

On colds, worlds and Glory

I’m sitting on a chair in the living room. I’ve just got dressed. It was a huge effort, much bigger than it should have been. I can’t speak. At least, when I try to nothing more than a croak comes out. My ears are misbehaving so that sounds seem more distant than I know they really are. I feel like I’m in a different world. My own private world. It’s lonely and it’s me-centred.

I don’t imagine that anyone likes being unwell. No, me neither. For one thing, it’s so annoying. Doesn’t my body know that I have things to do? Surely worlds will stop when I’m not there doing my bit. I am very important. Or perhaps not. Perhaps everything will carry on without me. It seems to be doing fine while I’m here sitting on my chair.
Well, ok. Maybe life doesn’t stop. But what about my opinions? I can’t speak, can’t enter conversations. I have things to say, worlds to change by my words, people to influence. But maybe they’re better off without my words. Maybe more of my words tear down than build up.

Being ill comes as a sharp reality check. Even though I know that my plans for myself aren’t guaranteed, it’s always a bit of a shock when God’s plans are different. When I have to cancel those dinner plans. Miss seeing those people. Keep those thoughts to myself.
Being ill tears down the wall of pride and self-importance that I like to build. Oh, I’m pretty quick at building it but God breathes and it crumbles beneath his glorious plans. I don’t like to see it crumble. In fact, I get pretty cross about the whole affair. Sure, I know what I’m supposed to do. I know the thank you prayers I’m supposed to pray. But seeing my wall fall down hurts. Every time.
Being ill pushes me along the path to Glory. It’s not a gentle push. It’s more like a poke with a cattle prod. I often try to resist it but, God be praised, he’s a lot stronger than I am.

I say this stuff. I believe this stuff. But I’m not sure that before I’m made new and perfect, before I meet Jesus I’ll even begin to really understand this. But as I sit here on my chair, I don’t have to understand it. I know that Glory is coming, and I’m getting a preview right now.

On parenting. Or not.

I know, I know. I’m a young girl who’s been married for all of 5 months and I have zero children and therefore know nothing about parenting. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’ve almost got it. I certainly don’t claim to know much about being a parent. But I know an awful lot about not being one. I’ve had 22 years experience. 6 of those have been in the knowledge that in all likelihood I’ll never know about being a parent from first hand experience. And, to be honest, that stinks. I’m not talking about a little bad smell here. I’m talking gut-twisting stink. Since I was 16 I’ve had to face up to the fact that I’ll probably never hold my own child, never hear anyone call me Mummy, never be able to make my husband a Dad, never get to use the list of favourite baby names I’ve had stored up for years and all the rest. 

Since getting married it’s got both harder and easier. Easier because I never thought I would be married and so being given this gift is good enough for me – I certainly don’t expect any more. Easier because I’ve been a lot more ill and so the reality of how I simply couldn’t care for a baby hits home more. Harder because I have a real, great person to add into the sentence ‘never be able to make my husband a Dad’. Harder because having babies is what married people do. Harder because people make comments about it now. 
There’s not many situations I like less than the one in which I’m having a conversation with a parent and they’re trying to make me feel better by telling me how much money or time or energy or effort their children cost them. It’s not fun for me and it’s not fun for the child standing beside them. 
I suppose one of the biggest things about being a mother is the giving love. I suppose that in every woman/person there’s a desire to give giving love. There are ways to live giving love to other people but in no way are those comparable to the way in which you live giving love to your child. Maybe that’s why there’s an emptiness in childlessness. They say that you have to love to feel pain. Maybe giving love hurts as much when you can’t express it. 
I don’t know. I don’t have solutions. I don’t have answers. I know there’s hard things about being a parent and hard things about not being a parent. I can’t sort those out. Stuff hurts sometimes. But I guess the important thing to remember is that it’s ok for stuff to hurt. We can be sad. We can cry. As long as we do it with Jesus in sight. But the best thing is that he doesn’t let us be sad and cry on our own. He’s there with us. And he knows what it’s really like for stuff to hurt.