[Warning: this gets pretty feely. So feel free to feel… or don’t read it. Up to you.]
The last blog I posted was on the day that I hit my head on some stones beneath a swing. On Easter. How Ironic. This little accident resulted in a severe concussion. The sound of my skull clanking against the cobblestone path still rings in my ears. I remember as soon as it happened I very quickly stumbled up to my feet, LAUGHED (for goodness sake), and probably tried to mutter something that didn’t quite come out right like: “I’m fine, I’m okay”. But what happened next was not an indication of me being “fine”. I stumbled around for about 5 seconds before being ushered into a car as I felt hot tears fill my eyes. I get headaches often, but this was a new breed of headaches I hadn’t yet been introduced to. The back of my head was throbbing although I wouldn’t admit it at the time. Little did I know, this newfound ache, as well as the exterior pain from the blow, would be my constant companion for the next two weeks. At the moment, I had truly convinced myself I was fine. When my boss told me (yes it happened while on the clock… how convenient) she was going to have someone take me to the E.R. because I might have a concussion, I felt a part of me let go as I suddenly slipped into the realization, “Oh. This is worse than I thought”. And as I so often do in many scenarios, I had minimized this one. I had minimized my pain… big time. When I realized I would be spending the evening in the E.R. instead of studying for a test I had the next day, I felt shocked, relieved, but mostly overwhelmed. The tears started to stream. And for the rest of the night, the E.R. visit, the phone call to my mom, the awareness that my headache wasn’t going away with advil this time, the doctors telling me, “Well your skulls not cracked open so you should be fine to take that Psychology test in the morning”, I was on the verge of more and more tears. An endless stream it felt like. A deep deep well. “Where was the bottom?” I asked myself, “Why am I being so overdramatic?” I told myself to “get it together”. When I was finally diagnosed with a concussion on a Monday, I planned to be back in school by Thursday. That didn’t happen.
I won’t lie, recovering from a concussion, even one that doesn’t have permanent neurological damage (Praise the Lord!!) was not easy… especially for me. This being because I was told to “not think too much”, to “not over-use or exhaust my brain” so that it could fully heal. I wasn’t supposed to go to school or drive or be on screens. Although I really had no desire to do any of that at first. My head was almost constantly begging me to keep it horizontal, on a pillow, with my eyes closed… I slept a lot in the first few days after I fell. The not using my phone part was hard, sure. I am devoted Pinterest and Instagram user as many of you can relate. But it wasn’t as difficult as lying in bed awake for hours on end when I had already slept as much as I needed, and I had to keep my thoughts quiet. For one who overthinks every thought that crosses her mind, this was difficult to say the least. The part that was hardest for me was the lack of control– even though it was temporary and I was almost certain healing would come, that time of waiting was rough. And on top of that, the non-permittable stress about school was taking over as I knew I would not be well in time to take my finals in just a few weeks. The more stress I felt though, the more I tried to numb it all. It was easier this way in the moment. After all, I wasn’t supposed to think too much. But I could tell that it would all come up later. And one afternoon after I had been going back to classes for a couple days- for the first time in two weeks- on the floor of my dorm room, it sure did. All of those shoved down frustrations from the whole debacle erupted. And I felt it all. But I also felt God saying softly, “We are starting over now”.
I can honestly say my concussion was a way in which “the enemy intended to harm [me]”. But there is a second part to that verse…”but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Now granted that verse is taken completely out of context, but it does say something about God’s character. He is a redeeming God. He is bringing light to the darkness and healing to the sick and broken. The thing to keep in mind, although disruptive to what is perceived to be our picture perfect redemption story, is that there cannot be one without the other. No joy without the sorrow, no good without the evil, no day without the night.
I, for one, have minimized pain my entire life. And I’ve shamed myself for feeling too much of it. My injury, though small and not fatal, was a bit of a metaphor for the emotional pain in my life: what I’ve faced, still face, and have buried deep within. This world is broken. It is dark. Sometimes I look within myself at what I have deep and buried and am displeased at the darkness I find. I feel shame when I don’t “choose joy”. But if we scope through the trenches of whatever lies buried in the parts of ourselves we seldom go. If we look and see that there’s no darkness within us there… then what did Jesus die for?
Harsh reality: I am not a naturally joyful person. Maybe you are. That’s great! But I am not. Naturally, I have very dark thoughts, I can write an angsty song, and my sense of humor is often morbid. Yet, I am terribly enthralled with the beauty in life. What a paradox I am (you don’t need to tell me). Those larger than life, happy people used to annoy the heck out of me. Partly because I always felt like such an outsider. My resting face in school was either wicked RBF or a dazed look that made my teachers ask, “Hey, are you okay?”. But here’s the thing. It’s something I had to learn myself in my own time, and it’s something I’m definitely still learning: in order to find true joy, we need to be able to recognize and accept that darkness. That sadness, that anger, that inexplicable pain, and just the utter brokenness of ourselves and this world. Every feeling.
A truly joyful person is not joyful all the time. They choose joy because they also chose to feel the hurt and the pain. And there are seasons in which you must let yourself feel each and every one of these things. The hardest place to live in, I’ve learned from experience, is when you choose to feel nothing at all. Minimizing not only the pain but the joy too. Until you start to wonder what each of these feelings even truly feel like. But see we were made to feel. Sensations and emotions. All of the above. We can’t go on living as a whole person if we are only feeling half of the emotions connected to what is going on around us. I’ll be honest, I have gone through times where I truly feel like no more than half human. And then I realize why. I need to stop minimizing. And while this is at first a bit of a relief like when my boss told me I’d be going to the E.R… there’s also an “Oh. This is worse than I thought” element, which usually calls for a prolonged eruption. And maybe few of you can relate to that right there, but I know for a fact all of us feel things, and though some of us won’t dare admit, even to ourselves, we all feel deep pain. It’s only when we finally choose to lean into that pain, that the real healing can begin.