"Is This for Real?"
Disappointment is what I feel,
Can’t believe this TN is real—
What, Dear Lord, is the deal?
I thought my season of great trial was complete—
I was looking forward to a time more sweet;
Again, to solitude and pain, must I retreat?
I know Your ways are greater than mine
I believe that Your love is holy and divine;
But, are You sure, Lord, this is the right time?
I desire to serve You, Father; surely this You see!
Yet, this illness is what You have planned for me?
How, Oh Lord, will it better point the way to Thee?
I’m calling out to You now; can You hear me on this night?
Please come and assure me that everything will be all right;
That this will come to good; that I am still your precious delight.
Note: This was one of my first writings about my illness, after having just been diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia. (TN is described under the tab, “Why this Blog”) Having just gone through a difficult time in my life, I was certain I was about to enter a time of rest and ease-- boy, oh boy, was I wrong!
"Make My Life Count"
Make my life count, Lord;
Don’t cast me aside.
Please use this for someone, somehow—
And be glorified.
Make my life count, Lord;
Keep me strong ‘til the end
Help me show others,
Sickness can’t win.
For You are the potter,
I’m but the clay.
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray.
To make my life count Lord
Do as You will.
I will be waiting…
Yielded and still.
Please make my life count.
Note: Soon after I was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN is described under the tab “Why this Blog”.) I knew I didn’t want this pain to be in vain. This poem, “Make My Life Count” is really the lyrics of a song I wrote that sums up this desire.
If you’ve walked a ways ahead of me, call back;
It will give me courage as I walk along this stony track.
If faith’s fire grows strong, and you see a light up ahead
Tell me what it looks like—for it will help dispel my dread.
Friend, I am feeling weak, and I wonder if I will ever find true rest;
Or is this what my life is to always be, test upon test.
So if you’ve seen the hand of God work through the difficult things in your life…
And if you’ve felt a peace within, even among much toil and strife…
If you’ve walked a ways ahead of me, call back;
It will give me courage as I walk along this stony track.
Note: I can only take a little credit for “Call Back” because it is modified from another poem from the wonderful devotional book “The Streams in the Desert”. I included it here because it is a wonderful poem for our journeys with pain.
Bless me, Father
Bless me, Father , when I suffer
and do not understand;
May I put my trust in You alone,
holding tightly to your hand.
A Friend’s Embrace
How dark the night;
How bitter the wind
My strength all spent
Face awash with tears—
When a friend’s embrace
(Oh, Gentle Heart!)
Breaks through like the sun
Evaporating my fears!
Note: “A Friend’s Embrace” was written during a time when I was feeling friendless and forgotten--something that taunts me now and again. Out of nowhere, as happens by God’s grace, a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while called out of the blue and asked if she could drop by since she would be in the area, and her hug changed everything!
"Your Love Has No Limit"
Your love has no limit;
Your grace no measure;
Your power no boundaries,
No beginning, no end.
Your riches are infinite,
Your resources unlimited;
I praise You, My Provider,
My Comforter, my Friend!
Note: “The Beckoning Pit” below is a story (a fairly long one--almost 3,000 words) about my close call with committing suicide. Despite my strong faith, despair for my family made me almost believe a lie: that they would be better off without me. As a believer in Jesus Christ as my savior, I know many who read this will find it comforting; others will be discomforted and even judgmental of my view of suicide. I pray the Lord will use it to His glory in your journey, or in the one you love who suffers with pain. This story is referenced in my post, “Suicide Considered”.
"The Beckoning Pit"
Judi S. Coleman
“Being dead is the unknown “x” in our sum.”
I woke up with a start, remnants of a dream still lingering in my head. I stayed as still as I could, hoping I could call back the dream, feeling that it had an urgent message for me “Think, Judi, think!” I admonished myself, refusing to open my eyes against the wakefulness that was tugging at them.
As if obeying my command, the dream returned, like a heavy velvet curtain opening for the final act. I had had been sitting in our screened-in-porch, enjoying the night-time that was falling around me. In the quiet I could barely make out the rumble of cars on Broad Street, a half of a mile to the North, amidst the harmonics of crickets and other bugs chorusing in our back yard.
Then I did. When I looked out on the yard, I saw a man. He was dressed in the kind of clothes the good guys war the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, white collared shirts, leather pants, and capes. Although it was growing darker by the minute, I could see his face clearly. He was probably in his early 30’s, features softer than I would have expected given his clothing, and he had wavy dark hair that had not seen a brush for a while, reaching to his shoulders. Trying to make some kind of sense of who this man was, I was surprised, when his expression seemed to say that he knew me--not only that he knew me-- but he was sorry for me.
As I got ready to speak to him, I was shocked into silence by what I saw next. On his shoulder he carried a covey of arrows. In one smooth motion, he pulled out one, set it in a bow that he held in his other arm had had been hidden by some bushes, and directed it at me. Before I had the chance to shout, “Stop!” he released the arrow.
I woke up fully then to realize he had not missed his mark.
And I was as good as dead.
The pain had returned. Although I did not know (and still do not know) what the man represented in the dream--was he an angel? Or was he simply something my own imagination conjured up that represented my pain, perhaps from having seen the Lord of the Rings movies? Of course, the arrow’s meaning was obvious--it was trigeminal neuralgia (TN)*. And now I knew what I had to do.
I stayed in bed, feigning sleep, as my husband, Warren, got up at 6 a.m., quietly pulling clothing out of drawers and walking down the hallway to the shower. A short while later, he returned and entered the closet to get dressed, closing the door behind him so that the light did not wake me. I breathed in his freshly showered smell, that familiar mix of soap, and deodorant. Shortly, Warren exited the closet, and called softly to our dog who had been waiting on her bed. “Come on, girl.” I heard Lacy’s swishing tail as our golden retriever followed Warren downstairs, eager for breakfast and a trip outside. I tried to fall back to sleep, but the pain was too great, so I watched the clock instead, willing 7 a.m. to come when, our daughter, Katie, would get up.
I heard her door open at 7:15. “Dad, why didn’t you wake me!” she shouted down the steps as she stomped her way into the bathroom, not waiting for a reply.
At 7:35 Warren called up to her, impatiently, “We need to leave in five minutes!”
In response I heard only a grunt behind her closed door. A few minutes later, however, Katie’s flip-flops were banging down the steps, and soon the house echoed with the silence at their departure.
After a few minutes, Warren’s footsteps could be heard running up the steps. Banging followed. “Katie, we have to go now or we will be late!”
It was time to face the day. When I moved to sit up, the quilt on my bed was awash with sunshine, enlivening its golden yellow, cherry red, and baby blue colors. I sat up and smoothed the quilt over my lap, wondering, as I often have done over the years, about the woman who created it more than a hundred years ago, Warren’s grandmother, Lilly. A “crazy quilt” it was called, made from left over scraps of clothing she had sewn for her family; a tapestry of their life together. Her love revealed itself in careful stitches-- a love that only a mother understood. I hoped she would understand the decision I was now considering.
A Second Failed Surgery
Could it have been just yesterday that Warren and had driven to Baltimore for my post-surgery appointment with Dr. Carson? How we had rejoiced at the success of the surgery! We stood in that little examining room—all four of us—Dr. Carson, his physician assistant, Carol, Warren and I—hugging each other and thanking God.
“I am so glad for these results, Judi. Remember, this is not a permanent fix--but most people find relief for three to five years. I would like to see you in another six months as a follow up,” Dr. Carson said as we ended our appointment.
“We’ll see you then. Thank you, again,” Warren had replied, smiling in relief and hope.
During the four hour drive home, Warren and I planned a weekend away now that I could expect to feel well. We talked about other things we looked forward to doing, and catching up on. So many activities shelved, so many needs left untended…I could barely wait to jump in and become involved with “living” again.
Back in the moment, a jolt of pain hit me hard. I pulled my legs up and wrapped my arms around them, trying to form myself into a ball. I started to wail and moan as I considered my situation. “I cannot do this to Warren again!” I cried. “It’s too much to ask of him, too much to ask of my kids, and the rest of my family. Plus, my friends and my church! It would be better for everyone if I simply killed myself.” The thought, once voiced out-loud took root. Although I knew my family would be heart-broken, it could save them from a greater heart-ache from losing their financial resources, energy, time and emotions tending to me. It would be a loving act of sacrifice on my part, actually, I thought. As I thought about these things, I imagined a warm, welcoming dark pit opening up in my soul…all I had to do was to step in. It would be as easy as sliding into a warm bath. And all of this could be over.
Another horrendous TN attack hit me. Afterwards, a plan began to form in my mind. I walked to my closet and opened the step ladder that sits in one corner. This allowed me to reach a high shelf in the back of the closet, where I easily found what I was looking for --a box in which I have saved my left-over pills from former prescriptions and pre and post surgery pain medications. I had collected them with the idea of making some kind of art piece to depict my pain, although, perhaps all along, this had been my intention--to save them as my way out.
Could I possibly do this? What would God think? I turned this over in my mind. Christ, my savior, had atoned for me, I assure myself. I knew suicide would be a sin, but I did not believe that suicide was an unforgiveable sin.
I dumped the bottles out on my bedspread, and sorted through them, looking for the strongest pain medications. One bottle in the middle seemed to shout, “Pick me!” It was a narcotic I had taken after my first surgery. It made me itch, so I was switched to another one, leaving this bottle practically full. It was perfect, for at least a dozen pills were left.
Two thoughts crossed my mind. I wanted to commit suicide without people knowing I did so; and I also wanted to keep it secret that my pain had returned. I figured I could call Warren and tell him I had a really bad head ache and decided to take some medicine left over from surgery. This would convince him that I had mistakenly taken too many pills somehow. He would have no reason to believe I would commit suicide, since he wouldn’t know the pain had returned, and he would have the memory of all the plans we made just yesterday. These would be his comfort, regardless of what anyone else might try to say to him.
No one would have to feel guilty, or responsible, I comforted myself. My family would be spared the blemish of having a suicide in their lives. It would just be an accidental overdose--such things happened all the time.
First, though, I wanted to give them even more proof that it would be an accident. Going downstairs, I made some coffee, and carried it to the kitchen table where I gathered a pencil and paper. I wrote a “to do” list to leave behind as proof. My first entry was, “Plan a small celebration of my post-op visit and good results.” Second, I wrote, “Talk with Warren about my priorities.’ Below these, I added mundane activities, “Grocery shopping” and “Make a dental appointment”.
“There, that should do it.” I put the pen and extra paper away, and posted the list on our refrigerator. I found it remarkable that looking at the list did not cause me the slightest bit of remorse or sadness. I supposed this meant my decision had been finalized.
Pouring cereal and milk into a bowl, I sat down again to figure out my next steps. How much medicine was enough to make sure I actually killed myself, rather than winding up in some kind of vegetative state that would cause my family even more trauma? Although I knew I could find the answers I needed over the internet, I did not want to take the chance that someone might be able to trace my having done so on my computer. I wondered if I might be able to call my neighbor and friend, Barbara Jean, who was a pharmacist and make it sound like I was worried for a friend who, I believed to be over-medicated, a not too uncommon occurrence among others I have met who have TN. I could ask her about it in a nonchalant way. I would need to cut the conversation short after I got the information, telling her that I had a terrible head-ache and was going to lie down. In this way, she hopefully, would not ask questions upon my death. As I considered the best way to go about this, I added another item to my “to do” list-“Call Barbara Jean about my concern for Mary.” Warren will think “Mary” was another patient I knew through my support group.
I got up to clear the table, I absentmindedly, turned on my IPod. Praise music filled the room as I rinsed out my cereal bowl and put it in the dishwasher, along with my coffee cup and spoon.
Words of a familiar song caught my attention, so I rushed over to the IPod to shut it off. I did not want to feel guilty about what I was planning to do, and the song had placed a niggle of doubt in my heart. Even with the IPod off, though, I could not stop the song from playing in my head, since I knew it by heart:
I don’t know what this day will bring;
Will it be, disappointing,
or filled with longed for things.
I don’t know what tomorrow holds
Still I know I can trust Your faithfulness
I don’t know if these clouds mean rain
If they do, will they pour down blessing or pain
I don’t know what the future holds
Still I know I can trust Your faithfulness
Certain as the rivers reach the sea,
certain as the sunrise in the east
I can rest in Your faithfulness
Surer than a mother’s tender love
surer than the stars still shine above
I can rest in Your faithfulness
I don’t know how or when I’ll die
Will it be a thief
or will I have a chance to say good-bye
I don’t know how much time is left
But in the end I will know Your faithfulness
When darkness overwhelms my soul
When thoughts are storms of doubt
Still I trust You are always faithful,
Your faithfulness byBrian Doerksen
2002 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music/ASCAP
I Could not Hide from God’s Love.
I collapsed into a kitchen chair, leaning my head into my open palms and willed the words away. Soon, I was crying and I couldn’t help but pray, “Lord,” I began, “I want to step into that beckoning pit. I do not want to make my family go through this again. I want them to be free from this! I want to be free from this!”
Scared, I cried out, “Why would you want us to go through this again? You have to show me at least one good reason! Or, I really can’t do it--I really cannot!”
I remained there, eyes closed, and weeping. I waited for scripture to appear in my mind that would direct me, or for a memory of a teaching or some kind of wisdom from someone else. Nothing. Instead, I thought of my family, and the more I thought about them, the more I believed they would be better off without me. But, even as I prayed this, I kept picturing Warren in my mind. It was like watching the final credits of a movie, but rather than ending, they kept repeating…his photo kept returning. I knew I was missing something important.
“What is it about Warren, God? He’s the one I most want to do this for! I don’t want him saddled with me for the rest of his life! He’s such a loyal man--he’d give up everything for me--and I don’t want him to do that!”
I don’t know how long I sat there, but at some point I heard an answer loud and clear. It was not audible, but it appeared strongly within my soul:
“You cannot go because Warren needs your help with Katie (our teenage daughter)--he cannot raise her alone and you are the only one who can really help him.”
The words pierced me, and all my reasons for leaving, scattered, like confetti thrown to the wind. If it came to the point that I could not do one single physical thing to help--even if I became bed-bound or had to be placed in a nursing center-- I could listen to Warren and bear his burden of raising our troubled daughter. No one else knew what we had been through together, and no one else could truly understand.
I knew this was straight from God, because it was true, but I am selfish enough to say that I was not happy with the answer. There was no promise that God would remove the pain, or that life would become easier. However, it was enough, and I chose life that day and have chosen it every day since.
I feel no shame about having come close to committing suicide; actually it has enlarged my faith. I placed all my proverbial cards on the table; there were no more illusions about my supposed strength. And God, my Father, did not respond with judgment or condemnation--no lightning bolts or fiery flames burst from his throne. Instead, he responded with the truth that would capture my heart, because he knows me better than I know myself.
I do not know what the future holds, so I cannot promise I will say “no” to the draw of suicide if it taunts again. However, I believe, Christ will be present if it does, and will offer me a way out just as he did the first time. I hope I will choose it, because the consequences of me choosing my own course contrary to God’s plans always hurt others. However, if I do not, I believe I will still find myself safely in his arms in the end as I have been bought by his blood, redeemed and forgiven, and he alone knows my pain.
Written in 2007
*Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is a form of severe facial pain caused by an impairment of the "trigeminal" nerve, one of the cranial nerves that sits in the middle of our brains, and controls facial sensations. A few doctors with whom I consulted conjecture that mine occurred as the result of a virus I picked up while vacationing in Jamaica in 2005, that traveled to my brain and settled in my trigeminal nerve, wreaking havoc there. My nerve now misfires, so that mild touches and pressure changes (such as storms, flying in airplanes) feel to me like strong electric shocks, coal-hot burns, or as though my face is being cut open with a knife. TN is not curable, however, various treatments exist. I have tried many medications, mainstream and alternative therapies, along with four neuro-surgeries, including two serious brain surgeries, and one non-invasive brain surgery. Some treatments I have undergone have helped, others have had no effects, and still others have had negative effects.
"I Am In It"
“Are you suffering? Are you weary? Do you hurt from others’ wrongs? Rest, my daughter, pull up the blanket around you and lay your head on pillow, soft. As you do, hear me whisper through your pain— ‘I am in it.’”
“Do you wander, alone and wounded? Do you wish for better days? Are you fearing the worst is yet to come? Pour yourself cup of tea and sit with me. Feel my gentle breeze upon your face speaking, ‘I am in it’”
“There is not place you can go, no awfulness to be faced—that I have not approved for you, knowing it can turn to good. Like the gardener, who cuts back the rose bush with sharpened blade, the cut is deep within the marrow. For a season, the bush stands wounded, thorny and barren. Yet, in the Spring, a tender shoot appears, and soon the bush is filled with stronger limbs bringing a bounty of beauty. Thorns are no longer fierce, as buds and green leaves fill up the empty spaces. Buds blossom to velvet flowers, and the air becomes heavy with its sweetness. The rose bush testifies to the love of the gardener, whose deep cuts have brought forth stronger and more glorious life.”
“‘I am in this too.’ You cannot see the invisible work that I am shaping within your spirit. Lean on me, amidst the stormy battle, and let the peace I bring fill your innermost self. If you seek Me, you will find Me, and you will come to feel My shield before you, protecting you from every thing that is not part of My plan for your life. Though the battle rages with intensity, and you will experience temporary losses, you will come to know that I am holding the battle lines. Formations stand...no retreat. As you begin to accept My all-sufficient grace, you will find that though the battle rages on the outside, inside you are safe and sound in Me.”
“Few will come to live a life of passion and purpose who have not suffered losses so great they thought they could not bear them. You, like those few, can choose to hear My whispers and taste the love I pour into you, through your pain, transforming you to a newer and stronger self. You will find my grace is sufficient as you grow in trust, wisdom, and peace which would never have blossomed before the pruning.
“You will then be able to raise your voice together with those few other rarest of blossoms in your own season of Spring-time, ‘Oh death where is thy sting!’ For my truth will have become part of your own marrow, deep down within your Spirit: You need fear not, Oh, child of my heart, for I am in it. I will forever and always be.”
Note: I wrote “I Am in It” during my fifth year with pain. This was the year I came to terms with the fact that I was out of treatment options--no more surgeries; no more medications to cover the pain; nothing new under the sun in the traditional or non traditional medicine arena. However, running out of options was not such a bad thing; it freed me from the continuous search for human help, while growing my focus on dependence on the Lord as my strength and shelter. I willingly admit, though, that I am a “split- personality” believer--at times full of assurance and able to stare down pain; then in a moment withering into a slobbering mess of tears.
Yet, overall, it is with great joy, that I acknowledge the changed woman I have become, totally because of God’s love shown to me.
Please check back often! I have many more to add!