Sadly, the body of Christ has often failed to see trauma as a place of service…I think a look at suffering humanity would lead to the realization that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the twenty-first century. (Diane Landberg, 2015, Suffering and the Heart of God, p. 8)
Almost eleven years have passed since Tom’s diagnoses: Mycobacterial Avium Complex (MAC), Bronchiectasis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) with severe emphysema. To me, the limitations seemed minimal in the beginning. He continued to work long hours, climb telephone poles – and trees with a chainsaw(!) But as the years progress, the limitations mount – first, oxygen only at night, next an ICU admit after a simple outpatient procedure turned into a code blue, then forced retirement from a company to which he gave 44 years of his life. Three years ago, 24/7 oxygen, several bouts of pneumonia, and a year ago double pneumonia that required a 6-day hospital stay, increased difficulty breathing even during used-to-be-simple activities (like walking across the living room) and the most recent diagnosis of prostate cancer. The list continues. Tom is suffering. And I am suffering along with him.
We are constantly grieving the death of so many things – and learning new ways to celebrate life.
Our pastor recently taught a series titled, “A different kind of life” referring to a life to which God called Jonah. A life Jonah did not ask for, tried to run from, and resented to the point of bitter anger toward God. Our pastor reminded the congregation that many of us are living a “different kind of life” than the life we planned, hoped for or dreamed. He asked if we, like Jonah, resented God for the alterations. Many days I wrestle with God in to answer that question.
None of us signs up for suffering, and yet all of us experience suffering in one way or another. Trauma is not a stranger to any human. Our world is a place of death. We are on a path to death from the day of our birth. This world is not permanent. We are not guaranteed a pain-free, carefree existence. And yet…there is so much beauty and joy and goodness in this world if we will turn our eyes to see the wonder in every interaction – every moment.
When Tom and I first married, we built a “house” filled with dreams and plans, hopes and aspirations. We realized many of those dreams, plans, hopes. Some we did not even imagine for ourselves – God planted them along our path, grew them before our eyes, and lavished the rich bounty of His goodness upon us. In the beginning of us, we thought our house was strong and secure. Little by little, however, as the house we imagined began to strain under the weight of our individual stories of trauma and newly experienced trial and tragedy, we realized house plans needed to change so we could weather the storms. God thoughtfully rearranged rooms, narrowed hallways, removed breezeways, dug basements, and ripped away attics and skylights. The view changed, obscured by ever-gathering clouds of confusion and disruption. Visitors were sparse, the shades remained drawn, and the back door where friends once entered became suspect – even sinister.
Nevertheless, as we chose to walk slowly through the demolition, excavation, and renovation, we began to notice the incredible beauty of our new home – our “different kind of life”.
There is a deep appreciation for the life we share. Every day is precious. Every moment we can spend together a gift for which we consistently and consciously give thanks. New windows of hope are emerging. Our marriage has expanded from the early years of young love to an enduring love fueled by faith, commitment, and deep companionship. We know love that remembers moments shared, and desires new moments together; love that contains a wealth of words in a single glance or in miraculously patient responses when it is clear deprivation of oxygen ushers in confusion and exhaustion. It is in the peace that fuses our hearts as we bury yet another dream.
I am learning to slow down. To notice when a door opens and he wants to talk about the experience of his disease in the present moment or share a tender, vulnerable childhood memory. It is a privilege to unwrap these precious gifts. My Tom is a very private person and, although we have been married 48 years, he has only begun to offer up the treasure of his stories, longings, and desires in the last eight. These are holy moments I would not otherwise know. They are God-kissed gifts that came with the renovation of our house.
I wonder what kind of house you are building today. Where is the demolition taking place for you? Do you find reluctance in letting go of the way things were “supposed” to be as you are ushered into your “different kind of life”? As we look to the Builder and Maker, we find new treasures awaiting our discovery. He is good, His ways are good, and it is a good journey. We are all on our way to our real house – one prepared for us. May we recognize God’s kind embrace as He holds us by His “righteous right hand” and leads the way.
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.