It’s weird how much I love oatmeal. With blueberries and a dot of butter and some brown sugar. And milk – just enough – not too much that it drowns the oats.
Nearly every day for over a year, I ate oatmeal for breakfast. While I was in recovery, regaining my strength and little, by little, a normal life, my husband or children or friends (and my lovely niece who took care of me) prepared my bowl of oats.
Teresa always asked, “Oatmeal? You want anything else? Eggs? Toast?”
“Just oatmeal, the way I like it.”
I could count on its comfort, and oh, I needed that.
My friend Teresa was between jobs and dedicated Thursday mornings to help me. She’d fold laundry or do the dishes; sometimes she’d rub my back. She had been, for several years, a girl’s softball coach. She knew how to say the hard things gently, even with a smile and always framed in positive messages.
Theresa would often say, “What a journey! What a journey you’re on, Alyssa.”
To recover, literally means to regain what was lost or return to a former state.
I was indeed recovering, the goal being a pain-free and limp-free life. But no one goes on a life-altering journey and returns unchanged.
There are self-discoveries to be made in the twists and turns of a journey of that sort, and like Walter Mitty, I cannot entirely “fit” into the space I once occupied. The journey, yes the storms and the suffering, were like a fire at times.
On the long nights when my leg burned with pain, when my arms (which had taken to feeling all pins and needles from lack of normal circulation) awakened me before dawn, when getting myself to the bathroom was a task of Herculean proportions, I would weep on the toilet, weep on my pillow, alone, realizing how unwanted was this journey.
Mornings were hard. Dulled by medication and the lingering pain it couldn’t eliminate, I was slow moving. Angelo would bring me coffee with cream, leave it on the nightstand and move through the morning routine to get the kids off to school. I was alone in the house with my family.
The kids would come in and kiss me quickly, brushing love on my cheeks and I would smile brave and pretend I hadn’t been crying. Most mornings I was. But not out of self-pity alone. Often I wept of weariness. I wept of the long expanse of this adventure and all the unknowns, the what-ifs that populated our future. Like the hobbit, Bilbo, on his grand adventure, who longed for his warm fire and pipe and the security of the hobbit hole, I could not return just yet. The time would come, the doctors said, that my life would resume normalcy. They failed to explain that I would never again fit into that place as I once did.
And now I am here, normal again. Recovered. Yet it chafes.
And like an uncomfortable jacket or maternity pants that clench too tightly around the middle, I wriggle out and slough off normal. And like old Bilbo, I think often of my prior adventure and feel often a misfit in my own life.
And today, it occurred to me that the sweetest presence of God I’ve ever known came through like birdsong in winter or the warmth of spring sunshine after a long season of ice and snow.
I felt God’s presence most when my singular objective was to be alive.
In the gratitude of my salvation, in the midst of pain and loneliness and the weary wondering “Will this pain ever end?” I learned the holy practice of feeling God near me, showing me one, good thing for which to praise him. And in my heart and silent tears streaming, coffee growing cold in the cup and the school bus rushing by as it roared toward its destination, I gathered strength in the gratitude, in the presence of my Savior and the hope he had to give me, for that day alone.
Charles Spurgeon, well-known preacher, theologian, writer and orator of the late nineteenth century had a wife, Susannah, who suffered. She wrote this story, and it appears in Streams in the Desert, March 13:
“At the close of a dark and gloomy day, I lay resting on my couch as the deeper night drew on; and though all was bright within my cozy room, some of the external darkness seemed to have entered into my soul and obscured it spiritual vision. Vainly I tried to see the Had which I knew held mine, and guided my fog-enveloped feet along a steep and slippery path of suffering. In sorrow of heart I asked,
“ ‘ Why does my Lord thus deal with His child? Why does He so often send sharp and bitter pain to visit me? Why does He permit lingering weakness to hinder the sweet service I long to render to His poor servants?’
“These fretful questions were quickly answered, and through a strange language; no interpreter was needed save the conscious whisper of my heart.
“For a while silence reigned in the little room, broken only by the crackling of the oak log burning in the fireplace. Suddenly I heard a sweet, soft sound, a little clear, musical not like the tender trill of a robin beneath my window.
“ ‘ What can it be? Surely no bird can be singing out there at this time of the year and night.’
“Again came the fain, plaintive notes, so sweet, so melodious, yet mysterious enough to provoke our wonder. My friend exclaimed, “ ‘It comes from the log on the fire!’ The fire was letting loose the imprisoned music from the old oak’s inmost heart!
“Perchance he had garnered up this song in the days when all was well with him, when the birds twittered merrily on his branches, and the soft sunlight flecked hi tender leaves with gold. But he had grown old since then, and hardened; ring after ring of knotty growth had sealed up the long-forgotten melody, until the fierce tongues of the flames came to consume him his callousness, and the vehement heart of the fire wrung from him at once a song and a sacrifice. ‘Ah,’ thought I, ‘when the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed we are purified, and our God is glorified!
Singing in the fire! Yes, God helping us, if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.”
If you are in a season of suffering, or apathy, or confusion, or anxiety, might you yield under it enough in order to let loose the imprisoned music from your inmost heart?
Normal is overrated. The journey is everything. The path that you are on is a path of blessing. It may not seem it. It may seem too dark, too scary and you may feel too weary. But God will show you hope, even as a birdsong in a burning oak. And you, you can sing along.