It is a beautiful campus and if you are in just the right spot, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Intercostal Waterway. If you jump in your car, within minutes you can catch a sunrise over the Atlantic, though that might be a rumor, I am not actually sure I have ever seen a sunrise!
Inside the buildings is a much different story. Most people are walking around with a blank stare and both they and those with them (often pushing them in wheelchairs) have terror in their eyes. Some people wear masks, and it’s a safe assumption that they are waiting for a tragedy to happen to someone else because they are awaiting a transplant of some sort. Almost everybody walks around with a thick “patient itinerary” outlining every appointment, every test and every procedure. Patients smile at each other; it is a tender smile, one that says “I understand that you too are in a battle for your life”. There are sweet volunteers, who play music, help with directions or bring a service dog that loves the attention.
The hope is that the change in subject will serve as a diversion to patients, because nobody lands at the Mayo Clinic unless there is a battle for health and life. Every person tells a story with their eyes and sometimes their outward appearance. Many are weak and all are battle worn.
I am one of them.
I have been under the care of the Mayo Clinic since my diagnosis of 4 autoimmune diseases in 2010. I wasn’t as weary or even at all battle worn then, but was grateful to get answers for my issues then, and it seemed like it meant just changing my diet. That was a battle I was not happy to fight but one that I could fight nonetheless. Don’t eat gluten. Easy enough, I still maintain that I can fight a battle like that. And I have fought that battle, for almost 8 years.
Over the course of those 8 years, I have refused to touch on the emotional toll that 4 autoimmune diseases have taken on me. I have refused to pray about it, refused to talk about it and definitely refused to admit it.
My body is at war with itself.
Don’t I have enough “real” enemies, why must my body fight itself? Haven’t I been through enough?
If I am fearfully and wonderfully made, how do we explain this?
If God is everywhere, where is He now?
These questions have made their way from the depths of my heart to my vocal chords. I finally asked them out loud.
Because when I landed back at the Mayo Clinic, I was out of my ability to keep these questions in the shut off rooms in my heart.
I arrived back on campus in late June. The drive from my house to my hometown is a little over 2 hours. I made a lot of promises to God on those drives back and forth—as it would turn out I made that trek 4 weeks in a row.
I tried everything to avoid landing back there. And while I’d been a patient there for several years, this was the first time I noticed people looking at me with compassion in their eyes. I could tell they were trying to figure out why I was there. Even doctors looked at me differently. I managed to avoid mirrors but couldn’t avoid my friends and family who expressed concern with my continued weight loss.
As the doctor finished his exam and began throwing around words that terrified me, I felt like I couldn’t even take another breath. The days and weeks that followed were filled with multiple test and procedures, the weeks and months of the symptoms that landed me there began to take a toll on me. Pure exhaustion gave way to closing lots of nights with tears, fear and anxiety.
The world seemed to stop spinning. As I watched my friends and family attempt to hide the concern on their face, I became literally paralyzed with fear and there are parts of the month of July that I don’t even remember.
One of my friends requested Psalm 76 for my series “Summer In Psalms”. I had already written on it, but writers block was in full force and I decided not to publish it. Like everything else, I put my weekly posts on hold and focused on breathing air and keeping at least some food down. It occurred to me that I looked like I felt.
Exhausted. Battle worn. All of this turned into a miniature crisis of faith.
Where is HE?! When will He decide that I have had enough?
Then, in the middle of all of that, I got word of the tragic overdose death of my stepson.
At that point, I found myself literally on my knees for the first time in a very long time. As words gave way to pain in my knees from the hard, cold tile floor, I realized that my heart was just as hard and just as cold.
I was done. If my God could not meet me here, then I was done trying.
Tears dropped on the floor and they would not stop. As I stood up this verse hit me and it hit me hard. And suddenly, I was not a fan of my friend asked me to add to this Psalm to the series.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” Psalm 73:26
So, I had a choice to make. Would I allow Him to be my strength and my portion forever? I fought this.
I lost though.
Sweeping memories of all the other people walking around Mayo Clinic hit me. And my indictment of God began.
What about them? They are WAY more ill than I am. Are You their strength and their portion too? Because they look like they have neither. As a matter of fact, I look like that too.
The thing about God, he can handle my indictment.
There are times in life we all find ourselves bargaining with God. It is at those points that most of us find no other choice than to land at his feet and fall into His arms, so that is what I did. I found myself talking to Him a lot over the weekend while I waited for pathology to come back. Even though the doctor told us he did not believe it to be cancer, those 72 hours were filled with angst and begging God to give me a clean report.
In all of those conversations with Him, I noticed something.
I didn’t feel overwhelmed.
I felt stronger.
I regained some fight.
He was, in fact, sustaining me.
He was carrying me.
He was, in fact, my strength and my portion. And while I do not want another weekend like that, I want to remember the time I realized He is Everything to me.
I find this to be a precious time in my life. I don’t understand any of it. I don’t understand why He thinks I can handle any of this. I am confused that He created me to handle some significant issues in this life, but has now decided to take that will to fight away from me.
But then I get it.
I realized that the lie I keep telling myself is that I can fight anything. I can win any war or battle. I have already proven that.
Or have I?
Familiar declarative statements like “I have to figure this out” give way to “I can’t do any of this”.
It is the evaluation of all that He has redeemed that makes me realize that He has always been my strength and my portion. It’s never been about my stubbornness, strength or courage.
It’s always been Him.
And for whatever is next, it will continue to be Him.
And now, the only thing to remember is this precious promise as my flesh continues to fail, and my heart gets discouraged is this:
This place of surrender is exactly where He does His best work, some of which I may not know until the day I stand before Him.
Until then, I hope other patients at Mayo Clinic will see something different in my eyes. I want them to see Hope and Peace.
Since my God is the King of both of those things.
As the deer pants towards the water, God, so my soul will worship You.