I don’t know why some people must live a life that is so much more full of hardship than others. We all, as human beings in a developed society, go through the usual flat tire, car accident, miscarriage, divorce, or loss of a pet. Not to trivialize these things- they are difficult, and life is wrought with pain. But I’m talking about the person who must endure tragedy upon tragedy, heartache upon heartache- epic sized tsunamis that relentlessly seize us by the heart, decimating darn near everything in their path. I’ve known a few other people like this in my lifetime as well- the ones who, like me, seem to have no rest, and are constantly called to endure the most difficult of trials. In pondering on this my thoughts took me to a movie I watched several years ago- The Village. Did you see that one? These people, these special people, as I’d like to think, called, chosen, and destined, like the villagers in the movie, spend their lives living around these horrifyingly ugly, spiny, monstrous creatures- Those We Do Not Speak Of.
Perhaps there are and have been many times when people I have known have judged me to be one way or another way (i.e., needy, negative, self-centered, unspiritual/carnal, maladjusted, etc.), not ever truly knowing of all the spiny, scary, murderous monsters I’ve had to face and conquer in my life. I am a bit whiny! But these are people who may not know I was sexually abused as a young child- by two different men; who don’t know I watched my mother get beat in the head bloody by the butt of a loaded handgun; who don’t know I went through not one divorce as a child, but three; who don’t know I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, after being kicked out of my parent’s home and forced to live with a girlfriend and her drug addicted step-father who traded drugs for chores, while he was regularly perpetrating coerced (really forced) sexual intercourse on my friend; who don’t know I was there the night a close friend took her father’s gun and shot herself in the head, and then two days later I woke up in the hospital, tubes down my throat because I had accidently overdosed; who don’t know I have been utterly abandoned, having neither a mother or father who love me unconditionally- I never measure up to the expectation; who don’t know I have attempted suicide more than once; who don’t know I went and got married at 15 years old to a 24 year old man I had been having sex with since I was 13 and he was 21; or don’t know this same man, the father of all three of my children, raped me, broke my nose in a drunken rage, emptied my bank account to pay for his drugs, leaving me with no money to provide basic necessities for our children, and with whom I endured a whole nine years of other trespasses too horrid to even repeat; who don’t know I’ve literally seen and experienced the devil and all that he is capable of, from crosses flying off walls, to unexplained scratches appearing on skin whilst people slept, to “spiritual encounters” so strange and frightening, people would think I was psychotic if I shared them. And then, there was all the stuff in between- the ravenous mischief of Those We Do Not Speak Of. It’s probably hard to fathom that there could be things worse than those I just shared. I mean, all of that, that’s enough, right? How much more does a person need to endure? But believe me, these are just the nuts and bolts. There are so many details, circumstances, specific events that occurred in collaboration with this over-arching life theme- experiences which were soul-wrenchingly painful and have had life-altering consequences. I am sure it’s hard for people who do not truly know me, and there is only one who does, to consider all of these things when they grasp onto what they do know about me. The Aimee they see may be intelligent, introverted, dedicated, passionate, a loving mother, mature, courageous, self-insightful, grounded (in contrast to the needy, negative, and self-centered person others have perceived me to be). I don’t know exactly what people see? But I do know that even those who think they see me don’t see the continuum of experiences that have made me who I really am. And while maybe I am all these things I’ve described, who I am, good and bad, has come from years and years of life- hard life. It’s no wonder I get a little out of balance at times. It’s no wonder I struggle to grasp onto hope, to feel joy in my trials. I. Am. Exhausted. To. The. Bones. Yet, when I look back over my life, not just my childhood, but even up to my present circumstances in life, I stand amazed at how I have been able to survive all of it and not end up dead in a gutter, heroin needle sticking out of my bleeding arm. When people say “God’s grace” is to be accredited for their own blessings, it seems so cliché at times. But in my life, I have lived this, and I know in the deepest part of my being that it truly is only for the grace of God that I have not only endured, but come through some very painful stuff a much stronger and more whole person. One of the most profound ways God has administered His graces to me is through my children. Had it not been for them there would not have been any reason for me to not be lying in some gutter, overdosed on heroin. There would not have been any reason for me to endure this past nine years of cancer treatment, because it’s probably pretty obvious that my life experiences have taught me to hate this world and everything in it.
And yes, then there is the cancer. While cancer takes center stage in my life’s play, it is a stage I come to surrounded by the slain and rotting carcasses of these hideous, murderous, creatures- Those We Do Not Speak Of. It’s as if I have fought my entire life trying to survive them, decaying evidence to my right and left, but in the last scene before the intermission, the main character unexpectedly shows up, forcing me to face the prospect of dying tragically as a young woman. I went through all of THAT to see my life end by cancer? Is it any wonder there are moments I am needy, or morose, or feel angry, hopeless, or defeated? I am only human. And Those We Do Not Speak Of keep crossing the borders, coming out of the woods, even as I tangle with this new and dangerous character. There are fewer and fewer of them, but they still are coming. Those who remain give birth to more, and in this string of lineages, the consequence of a single assault gives birth, and carries on the seed to fertile soils in a garden playground of the devil. He has made my life’s stage his garden. He has been after me since the moment of my birth, standing at the delivery table, rubbing his hands and licking his lips in excited and devourous anticipation. And yet, where is God? This is a rhetorical question only because I know the answer and am not going to give it as of yet. The question is really posed to you, my reader, to ponder.
But now that you know, you know. When I say these things, that Those We Do Not Speak Of are continuing to come after me, even as I am distracted and weary from cancer treatment, I truly mean that. There are Those We Do Not Speak Of coming in at me from my right, and from my left, grabbing hold, trying to destroy the life within me. I just can’t say anything more than that, because after all they are Those We Do Not Speak Of. To even speak of them seems to attract them. They are also attracted by the color red. As hard as I try to stamp out every speck of red on me, on the stage, on the props, and on the other actors in my play, Those We Do Not Speak Of deposit little, glittering, red swatches in hidden spots when they come. Slay them as we might, they make sure to leave evidence to attract the others, their offspring. Some of these swatches have even been found, regretfully too late, carefully concealed in the pockets of the other actors who share my stage.
Stress causes cancer. Did you know that? Well, maybe not that it causes it, but it does, without doubt, make the body ripe for it. My number recently came up for a re-evaluation of my continued Social Security disability eligibility, and they cut me off immediately upon determination that I am no longer disabled, and can return to full-time work. I appealed the decision back in early February, and have a hearing in July. I went to my oncologist for assistance, and he, in no uncertain terms, said “no way” to the notion that I return to work. The type of work I was doing when I quit working was intense, demanding, and very stressful. When I left my job in late 2006 to devote myself to fighting metastatic cancer I had a forensic caseload of developmentally delayed adults who had committed arson, rape, and murder. My oncologist says that he doesn’t want me under that kind of stress because of the effects it will have on my body. As amazing as it is that as far as we know (scans are only once a year now, and the next ones aren’t scheduled until September), there is still no evidence of cancer, the reality is that the chemotherapy I have been faithfully infused with every three weeks since 2007 is the same one I had 8 months of prior to the metastasis. So we know it has failed. There was a time when I believed I had been completely healed. That time passed and while my faith was strong, my body proved otherwise. So, with certainty, as soon as I stop the chemotherapy, my cancer will proliferate, as that is exactly what it did before. But then there remains a very real possibility that even while I continue chemotherapy the cancer will become resistance and find a way around. There just simply is no cure for cancer yet. So in theory, the chemotherapy put into my body turns off/blocks a certain number of cancer cells from reproducing themselves, but those few that inevitably escape the effect are mopped up by the normal physiological processes (the immune system). Stress alters these processes and makes the body riper for invasion and disease. In trying to create additional medical documentation of the various disabling side effects of nine years of cancer treatment, I went to see a doctor of rehabilitation medicine. He treats, or rather teaches people how to manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia. After explaining to him why I had come to him, he told me that he could not help me- apparently Social Security has never acknowledged fibromyalgia as a disability. So I asked if he could at least put me through his program. He told me that I would have to wait until “my issues” with Social Security are settled, and that after that I could come back and start the program. His reasoning was that stress greatly exacerbates fibromyalgia, and any efforts at managing it would be fruitless until I get my stress under control. As he explained this to me, my foot shaking in rhythmic aggravation, my head slightly and repeatedly turning left to right in hopeless protest, a piercing thought seized me: this stress that he says is making me literally and miserably physically ill (and in pain) is just a tiny, almost unmentionable tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. I struggled to contain tears, and for a brief second I lost control, allowing them to well just enough to breach the brim, spilling out and down my face. A quick wipe away in defiant stoicism, I thanked him for his time and went about running the umpteen errands I had ahead of me. Life marches on. I wonder what I can really do to manage my stress? A good amount of it, as of late, is the fruition of things sown by Those We Do Not Speak Of- things sown 35 years ago, and maybe even a century or two before that, and maybe even planned for me since the foundations of the world. It all sounds so…….hopeless. Yes, in a sense I am a victim. And probably because of my DNA, or maybe just my sin nature, I tend to see the world I create through those lenses more than I wish to. That is another battle I fight. So again I find myself so heavy under the burdens, so weary from the struggles, so defeated by the oppressive hopelessness of my thoughts, so swollen from the raw, stinging pain of my tears, that I have no choice but submit myself to “medicinal adjustment”. I am back on Wellbutrin. Unfortunately, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction- the oh-so-apropos third Newtonian Law of Motion. In this case the Wellbutrin is causing me high blood pressure, which will certainly require an additional prescription, as I am still on a 4 month check-up schedule with my cardiologist. As long as the struggle’s been to successfully wean off all prescription medications, it seems I am back to daily pill-popping. Will all of this EVER end? And maybe all of this, even the cancer itself, is just more evidence of the barbaric ways in which Those We Do Not Speak Of are plotting a murder?
That rhetorical question, where is God in all of this, well to answer that more fully: It’s a difficult line to walk between “loving life” and “being positive”, and hating this world and everything in it, longing to be in the presence of God. We’re not meant to stay here. I don’t even think we’re meant to like it here (“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”- 1 John 2:15). And yet, somewhere amidst all this struggle we’ve inherited this will to live, this fight, this survival instinct so strong that people have performed miraculous physical feats in the protection of life. So life and the fight to preserve it, is in us. But there is also a wearying pain of life that can beat us down, and make us long for the glorious relief of being in our eternal state with God. Yet, there is a distinct difference between longing to be in the presence of God and lying down under the weight of the cross (committing spiritual suicide). I recently listened to a very timely <a href=”http://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/down-in-the-valley/”>sermon by Alistair Begg</a> speaking on 1 Kings 19, and the spiritual condition of Elijah. Elijah was at a place of being weary from Those We Do Not Speak Of too: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers’” (1Ki 19:4 NASB). Pastor Begg charges Elijah with “looking at God through circumstance, rather than looking at circumstances through God.” Indeed, later on in the passage we see that an angel brought bread and water, waking Elijah, he ate it, went back to sleep, was awoken again by the angel to eat and drink, and then was sustained a staggering 40 days by that nourishment.
In February I left for Texas and spent a month there, with my son and daughter-in-law, waiting for my first granddaughter to be born, and enjoying her for a week or so after she came. A blessing indeed, and one I savor all the more because of the shadow of cancer I live under. But there are levels of pain too, partly because of the distance that disables me from being as visible in my grandbaby’s life as I would like, partly because of less than harmonious relationships, and in a bigger part because of the workings of Those We Do Not Speak Of. I simply cannot say any more than that. But my point is that before I left I had started listening to Ann Voskamp’s <em>1000 Gifts</em> on audiobook during my treadmill time. It gripped me almost instantly, and I spent my following workouts riveted, and often in tears. I started a gratitude journal, and was doing well with getting my head wrestled around to the right place. But, just like with my exercise routine, the month in Texas knocked me off the horse, and I have struggled to get back on it. Just a little out of focus, and here they come, almost as if they sense weakness. But the devilish creatures with their rabid sin, whose side are they really on? If God is for me, who can truly be against me (Romans 8:31)? Ann states,
<blockquote>“Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it (Amos 3:6)? And I feel it again today, and I breathe: A good God plans everything- everything. So a good God can only make plans for good? He only gives good gifts?…….Can it be that that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish the will of God? That which seems evil only seems so because of perspective- the way the eyes see shadows. Above the clouds light never stops shining…… These truth words reconfigure the battlefield under my feet… I know all our days are struggle and warfare (Job 14:14), and that the spirit-to-spirit combat I endlessly wage with Satan is this ferocious thrash for joy. He sneers at all the things that seem to have gone hideously mad in this sin-drunk world, and I gasp to say ‘God is good.’…..It’s just that the eyes are bad- my perspective. Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body, Jesus said. When your eye is good your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness…….No Scripture glasses to read what God is trying to write through a prodigal child? I scrawl my own quick editing on the half-finished story- ‘failure’, Satan’s tongue darts. Not wearing a Biblical lens to decipher the meaning of a doctor’s ominous diagnosis? Just read Satan’s slippery interpretation- ‘cheated’….So I have been ambushed. Without God’s Word as a lens, the world warps……. I won’t shield God from my anguish by claiming He is not involved in the ache of this world. And Satan prowls, but he’s a lion on a leash, and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry, and I can howl, and He embraces the David hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief. And I can moan deep that He did this, and He did…….But that I, day after day, after day, greedily take what looks like it’s good from Your hand, a child gloating over sweet candy- I have been a thief, trying to hoard away all the good. But that I’d thrash wild to escape when what You give from Your hand feels bad, like gravel in the mouth. Oh Father, forgive! Should I accept good from You and not trouble (Job 2:10)? It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace, and grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering, and overcomes that suffering….The God of the Mount of Transfiguration cannot cease His work of transfiguring moments, making all that is dark, evil, empty into that which is all light, grace, full.” (Chapter 5)</blockquote>
And so, to answer the question, God is right here. Amidst the onslaught of attacks by Those We Do Not Speak Of, He is. Even though I am exhausted and disheartened, He has not abandoned me. And even though there are times like now when I feel so utterly defeated, it is me, like Elijah, who is searching for God through my circumstances instead of looking at my circumstances through the eyes of God. But God hasn’t moved. He hasn’t changed.
Another thing that Pastor Begg suggested in that sermon is that when we are particularly tired (exhausted), we should not try to write important letters, or try to assess our spiritual condition. Perhaps I am guilty of both? But I brave to write because I hope that, whether someone looks at me and sees that I am needy and self-centered, or mature, and grounded, or whatever else may show, that the most evident thing that is seen is God. Through my thrashing about, my whining, my never-ending trials, perhaps God’s grace can be that much more apparent? I hope so, anyway. And as for Those We Do Not Speak Of, if you’ve never seen The Village, although I may have portrayed it like a horror movie, it really isn’t. It’s more like a contemplative commentary. At the end, Those We Do Not Speak Of turn out to not be real monsters, but created ones- created for a purpose.