It was impossible not to notice her.
Her son came in first to grab a wheelchair and then he wheeled it out to the waiting taxi and I saw him bend down and take his mother’s arm to help her out.
She came bundled in layers, a pink velour tracksuit making the final puffy covering. I could see the layers of shirts poking out the bottom like a set of skins. She leaned heavily against the side of the wheelchair and her son pushed her forward toward the check in nurses station like an offering.
He looked defeated. His feet shuffled slowly behind her and he never lifted his head or looked around, his eyes stayed focused on the top of her head. Maybe this is what despair looks like on a thirteen year old.
He looked as tired as a lifetime of hard could ever look. He couldn’t have been older than my son but he was doing man’s work. Caring for his mother. Her skin was sallow and sunken, shriveling out under her blue face mask and her voice rasped in agony as she moaned, her wail rising and falling with her breathing.
“I’ve been waiting here for a god damned hour! Get me in to see the fucking doctor! I hope none of you assholes ever get cancer and have to know how this feels! Oh, get me in you stupid god damned nurse. Get me in! I can’t handle this chemo, you don’t understand. I feel like I’m dying! I can’t wait for your stupid list, I need to go in now! I used up all my pain meds and I need more. I need them now. Do your job you stupid….”
She is half crying and half squirming out of her skin as the nurse takes on a clipped irritated tone and tries to calm her. The nurse is professional but dismissive. At first her voice is soothing like she is talking to a child or an imbecile. But after the rants, she is brisk, speaking in short staccato bursts.
The woman bristles at the slightest touch and her cries can be heard echoing through the waiting room. When the nurse tries to get a blood pressure, the woman’s son helps her peel the layers from her body and what’s left is shrunken and hollowed.
She is agony encased in bones and skin and all of it is being poured out, brandished like a weapon, like a lifeline, like a curse.
The security guard comes out of her tiny office and hovers near the door. When they’ve shuffled her off behind the doors, I overhear the nurse whisper to the officer, “junkie.”
“Today it’s cancer, tomorrow it’ll be something else. That poor kid of hers, though,” the security guard shakes her head.
My eyes connect with an elderly woman seated near me, the one with an ace bandage wrapped tightly around her lower ankle and she lifts her eyebrows in disapproval and rolls her eyes when the woman passes by wailing.
But the wailing woman is beyond restraint. Her torment is unleashed as she screeches like a siren down the hall, her son following behind her.
She is flailing and lost and I ache for her. I want to gather her and her son. I want to sit with her. Instead I do the only thing I can. I pray. I pray into the void, into the pain, into the wounds, and the poverty that would bring a woman here in the middle of the night rather than to an oncologist’s office where she might be treated as a patient instead of as a problem.
I don’t know where she’s poor but I know she is. I know it’s poverty of soul or poverty of spirit or poverty of circumstance but this kind of deficit shows. It can’t even hide itself and pretend because the void swallows everything. People turn away because it’s embarrassing to be so desperately needy.
I pray into the space where we’re gathered for this moment. I don’t know one word of her story other than she hurts. I know that. I know what it feels like to hurt. And maybe that’s enough. I know Jesus never turned anyone away that was desperately needy. I know He calls them to His side.
I am here in pain, in anguish over a few lost night’s sleep and pain too much for me to handle. I am tired and discouraged and cradling my palm against the side of my face that is radiating pain throughout my neck and chest and jaw like a throbbing drum line. My life has been marked with health issues. Pain has been a constant knowing.
We are all gathered here in pain. We come with wounds and worries, with pain beyond our first aid kit and our Tylenol. We come for healing or at the very least for hope. We come for rest and relief, for remedy.
I am crying. Not just tears spilling but weeping. Tears are streaming down my face and I don’t know where my pain has ended and other’s have begun but I know everyone comes broken. The elderly woman rises and hobbles away from me, I have become offensive too.
I pray. Give me Jesus. Be near to us now.
There is so much pain. There is so much hurt. I know God feels it all.
I wrote this prayer as my FB status Sunday morning because I needed to remind myself that Jesus is with me, I am found whole in Him. And because I have been in a lot of physical pain and struggling with some ongoing health issues which have drained and depleted me. I went to the ER Sunday afternoon, a few hours after this status, because it got unbearable.
And now I am reminded, God does give me eyes to see His goodness and mercy. Jesus is enough for all the world’s pain. I’m still hurting but I know I don’t ache alone and it’s my prayer that those in this world suffering and aching with all the pain the world has to offer will come to know all the grace God offers in return.
On Sundays mornings when you missed church because you were up all night in pain and you feel the ache and longing to gather and worship because that always helps make sense of things, give me Jesus. When you can’t shake the pain and last night’s sleep was just not good enough to restore a weary soul, give me Jesus. When your energy is sapped and your to do list piles up and there are no clean surfaces and your life is littered with too much and yet your void seems greater than your abundance, give me Jesus. When you’re not good at asking for help and you’re not good at sitting still and you can’t do anything but say please and thank you and be served, in that stillness and waiting, give me Jesus. When your face is muddy with tears and it all seems so ridiculous and you know one good night of sleep would knock some sense back into you but you just want to sit and pout because your life is harder than everyone else’s, which you know isn’t true, but you cry about it anyway and you pray to be reborn with eyes to see and remember God is good, give me Jesus. When my strength is not enough, give me Jesus. Somedays I just need to find the beauty in the midst of my sleep deprived hurting brokenness and it’s always Jesus. The beauty is always found in Jesus. Give me Jesus, I pray.
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