The bad days are the ones when I can't grip the coffee pot to pour the water and it rolls from the sides of the black plastic into a mocking puddle. When I throw the bagel across the kitchen because I can't hold the knife steady to cut it and it's only just a bagel so how can it upset me so badly? My knuckles are twice the size they should be but the pain is not just in my hands but my back and neck and eyelids, foot arches and earlobes and hair follicles. It all. just. hurts.
Besides my knuckles, everything looks right and people can't understand because I have good days too. Sure, my under-eyes sometimes pool with fatigue from the insomnia of this pain but there are no bandages, no battle wounds, no wheelchairs or braces or sickly props to illustrate the state of things inside my body…just a smattering of golden bottles with childproof lids, narcotics and anti-inflammatories and drugs that fool my brain into convincing my nerves that the pain is imaginary. These bottles I can't even open on days like these, even in my desperation to tear into them and suck down the chemical relief that really only takes an edge off that which never really goes away.
And my enemies are can openers and blinding headaches, office chairs and fall weather, ballpoint pens and uncomfortable mattresses, all of them giants to this aching David with pills in my slingshot, shooting tablets and capsules into the eye of the Goliath challenges of cutting an onion, brushing my daughter's hair, getting a good night's rest, or, the toughest one of all, sitting in a chair. I am angry because my mouth is full of ulcers, sores that no one sees but makes eating so difficult and when I am low and need comfort, even my husband cannot kiss this leper's mouth.
It feels like weakness, you know, when you require assistance to wrestle with a can of peaches, when you call for help to defeat a box of laundry detergent, and when you watch while, with ease, those other folks you know can do these things without effort. It bubbles up and I despise the helplessness, I create more pain for myself in the struggling stubborn refusal to be weak and needy. I am not fragile.
Still, the jelly jars must be opened. The tennis shoes must be tied and the twist-tie has to go back on the bread bag. The coffee must be made because I need the hot, dark liquid like I need the caplets in the golden bottles, to soothe my insides and stave off sleep but more, so I can wrap my aching fingers around the steamy mug and feel the warmth of relief through my hands.
In this needing, I unwrap the gift of chronic pain.
I am willfull and obstinate, a stubborn girl who wants control over this life. But in the pain and the daily struggle, He teaches me dependence…surrender…the truth that I am in control of nothing. I cannot rule over a bagel or a bread bag and I cannot rule over this world, not even my own corner of it. These prescriptions do not heal me and I am laid low before the only one who does. This girl who doesn't want to need anybody needs people around me like I need air and when no one else can really understand, I need a God who does. How this humbles my prideful heart.
It is a gift difficult to accept. My hands tangle in the bow and I am slow in tugging off the shiny paper, mangled knuckles throbbing in the unwrapping. And in the midst of the painful receiving, I am learning to have gratitude to the Giver for even a gift I would not have chosen.
Gifts are made to bless, and yes, even this. It is a thankfulness not come easily, but earned in the walking through hard places and the learning that the best gifts, the ones that sustain for eternity, are those farthest from our wish list. This has been the gift of growing lower, of learning how to need, and a ticket to a journey closer to the only thing my heart can ever really desire.