This is a pretty straightforward idea. How do we choose what teams to follow? Probably the same teams our parents liked, and most likely from our hometown. I’ve been living in Northern California for the past 20 something years, but I still root for the Dodgers. They’re my team, and LosAngeles is my hometown. You could say my sports lens is Dodger blue, because even if I’m watching football I’m rooting for the Dodgers. I also don’t watch a lot of sports…
Likewise, the lens through which we view pain is definitely instilled in our childhood. Do you ignore it? Do you suffer through it? Do you curl up on the couch and let someone feed you soup? Do you wail for the whole neighborhood to sympathize with you, or do you retreat in private until the brunt of the storm has passed?
My vision definitely changed when I was 11. On the way home from school I was hit by a car, and from there was taken by helicopter to UCLA for emergency surgeries sewing my face together, keeping my brain intact from internal bleeding, and slowly sewing my left shin back into a form that once again looked like a leg. It was pretty serious, it was very difficult for everyone, and it dramatically changed every lens I had on life.
At the time no one was sure how I would recover.
I made it through the first night, so I was at least still alive.
I made it through the week and finally came out of unconsciousness. But after that, the doctors were looking at the MRIs of my skull, looking at the X-rays of the serious compound fracture that decimated my leg, and started to make professional speculation for my parents. Where would I be after this week; where would I be later in life?
It wasn’t an optimistic speculation, by any measure. They might be able to save my leg, but they already have the plans ready to amputate. They were able to reconstruct my face, and they think once the swelling goes down they will have a better idea of how disfigured I was and possible future plastic surgeries may be necessary. But what they were most concerned about was the subdural hematoma, or the bleeding in my brain which they had stopped with great precision on the first night.
The subdural hematoma put a lot of pressure on my brain, and there was damage. This could “mean things,” and it could possibly mean very unfortunate things.
Long story short, they just kept a very tentative eye on me for the next few months. I was assigned a Special Education tutor to teach me at home, just in case I would be mentally stuck in the 6th grade for the rest of my life, which was the best prognosis the doctors gave us.
This event took the lenses I had, crushed them, burned them, threw them in a volcano in the middle of Mordor and I was left rebuilding myself and restructuring how I saw the world and how I saw people, and how I saw suffering. This was my new lens:
I ignored the hell out of it.
It never happened.
The car never existed.
I had no pain. And I was expected to fall in line and pull my load.
Now, you might be up at arms about this…but I did fall in line, and I did pull my load. I heard every conversation the doctors had with my parents when my body was broken, and I saw through the platitudes when I was in a wheelchair with a shaved, stitched up head in the middle of suburban LosAngeles during my first year of Jr. High.
I fell in line and kept quiet, because I could see the people who were kind, the people who lied, and the people who bit. I had survived a horrible car accident, but surviving the social hurdles was a much more strenuous task.
So this was my new lens for pain.
We go to a prayer group on Tuesday nights, and usually stay way too long afterward chatting with everybody. The evenings are spent discussing food, kids, homeschooling, gardening and what is eating our gardens…besides us…Calvinism, Armenism, focus on the teachings of Jesus, and on, and on into the night. We’re a weird bunch, but we like it a little on the edgy side.
The other night I was finishing talking with my friend and gathering my 5 kids, and most of their shoes, to start heading to the car, and my friend warned, off hand, that the road near their house will be closed next week for roadwork; just fyi so you don’t get stuck out there and have to go a few miles around (it’s all country roads out here, so the best shortcut around this road is about 2 or 3 miles through farmlands).
This was very nice of her to let me know, except that I had no idea what she was talking about.
The road leading up to her house will be closed? That doesn’t make any sense, why would they close down the main road out here… where did she see this?
She said, “Well, the signs on the side of the road have been warning people about the closure for about a week.” And sure enough, as I drove home with the kids and almost all of their shoes, I noticed that, indeed: there were flashing signs saying “This road will be closed between these three dates.”
I literally drove past them innumerable times, and I never read the signs!
Now, I’ll tell you why I didn’t, and it’ll make more sense: it’s because the city has been systematically shutting down small sections of the roads in town for about 5 years now in order to work on the streets. I am so used to seeing these signs all over town for months/years at a time that I have learned to ignore them, because I don’t expect anything to be done around them.
For instance, there was a road that the city expanded and improved with new streetlights and landscaping and trees, all leading up to the new high school; except, there was a budget problem with the construction company, and they stopped working on that strip of road all together until they were paid for their work. Ergo, orange cones and wooden barriers and flashing signs were put up around that area for well over a year. It was finally finished, and at an amazingly quick pace, once the contractor was paid again, and it looks lovely (now).
But after all these years of seeing these signs around our small town, I have been trained to ignore them. The road might be closed, it might open tomorrow…who knows? Yet, in ignoring them, I have also found myself having to do u-turns at dead-ends on major streets and muttering to myself, “I didn’t think the sign was actually serious…”
However, this is an indicator to me of being consciously disassociated with events happening right in front of me. I can see the signs, because they are everywhere; but I don’t read them anymore, because I don’t believe them.
Now, if you’re following along with this story, maybe you’ll come to the same place I found myself: how many signs does God put up around us to show us His love, and we ignore them? Maybe the signs are everywhere, and we find ourselves on a dead-end road one time, and decide to disregard every other sign after that. “It probably got left there on accident,” or “that sign has been there for 10 years, I really don’t think it means anything anymore.” I think we see so many of God’s signs for us, that we second guess them to the point of disbelief, or maybe disregard.
If there has been pain in your life for as long as you can remember, it no longer becomes a surprise but is now the “normal.” You expect to be disappointed, or you just assume you are going to be hurt. When I was pregnant, the babies sat very far back and right on top of my spine so I had excruciating sciatic nerve pain all day, every day, until the baby was born. I had to name the canes I was using just to cheer myself up (there was the Caned Crusader, and Ninja Cane).
I expected to be in pain when I woke up, and I was in pain when I went to sleep. It was no longer a surprise, but was now the normal. Yet, when I trained myself to ignore the pain, it was also difficult to see the positives as well. For instance, if I can’t get up and move during the day it encouraged the kids to spend time just hanging out with me in one place. I had to find crafts that didn’t require me to move around much, which led to more intimate time together sitting at the kitchen table and puttering with things, just talking to each other. I had to rely on the bigger kids’ lifting abilities to help me get things out of the car or across the house, and that gave them a better sense of responsibility and purpose in our home.
When I couldn’t move, I had to rely on Ben to help me walk from the couch to the bathroom. He would hold my arm and put his arm around me to help lift me a little while I was walking so maybe it wouldn’t hurt as much. There were a few times when he actually lifted the bulk that was my pregnant body and carried me up the stairs because it was just too painful to even stand. Despite being a fiercely independent and prideful woman, I was completely at the mercy of this pain and had to depend on Ben daily to help me with big things, like grocery shopping which was now out of the question unless I used one of those fangled scooters, to small things like walking across the house.
Even though the pain put me on a huge time out, it could be seen as a sign to redirect traffic while the road was being rebuilt.
Even though I trained myself to ignore the pain, I am so glad I didn’t ignore the love that was so obviously in front of me, which would have been so much more painful than anything my body has gone through; And love is always the blessing beyond the pain.