A couple of months ago, I traveled to Europe with three of my favorite people…where we joined another one of my favorite people, Marcus, for an adventure of a lifetime. Some adventures were awesome…and some…not-so-awesome. But today I want to talk about a day that was a whole LOT of not-so-awesome. Wednesday, May 3rd, 2012. This was the day I took a 2 and a half hour ferry ride across the Adriatic Sea. It was the day I was almost broken by a green monster. It was also the day I learned about my rage…and Abba’s mercy.
|No, seriously. Be afraid.|
5. Stress. Not necessarily big stress…but sometimes “oh, hey…I lost my keys” stress.
|We make plane rides look goooooood.|
I was standing on a crowded cobblestone street when the first wave of nausea smacked me in the face. It was a national holiday in Italy…so, there were droves of people everywhere. Happy people. Laughing. Chatting in rapid Italian. Eating gelato. BAM…another wave of nausea. I remember hurriedly cleaning out one of the shopping bags I was holding in preparation for potential yarfing. I couldn’t breath. No, this couldn’t be happening. The Hulk was back. Father…where are you?
We had checked out of our cute little boutique hotel (Ciao beautiful Pietro!) and planned on spending the day shopping and site-seeing until catching a 5:00 pm ferry to Croatia. There was a Gustav Klimt (one of my favorite artists) exhibit in the Correr Museum on St. Mark’s square. I woke up giddy with anticipation…I couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to see some of my favorite paintings in freaking VENICE, Italy! But as I stood in the middle of a crowded street…clutching a plastic bag …I knew that I wouldn’t get to see Klimt in Venice. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy any more site-seeing. I silently slipped into survival mode as my mom and friends led me back to the hotel.
|Goodbye Klimt exhibit.|
To be honest, I don’t remember much from the rest of the day. I was forced to take a pretty intense cocktail of drugs to try to keep the nausea at bay (hey, that rhymed). The hotel graciously let me crash in our vacated room for a couple of hours until they had to clean it for the next guests. Then I had to move to the now empty breakfast room where I spent hours sitting in a chair with my head on a table. I was vaguely aware of occasional voices as Anna and my mom took turns watching over me. Apparently, Pietro was very concerned and came to check on me. (Anna was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with him…you’re welcome, friend.) Needless to say, this was NOT how I imagined Venice. Father…where are you?
Fade in…present time…
I admit. When the Uglyhead comes calling, I spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I’m no Job…that’s for sure. On some days, when I’m lying in my bed…in a medicated stupor…it’s easy to believe that I’ve been handed a really raw deal. Sometimes Abba feels very far away when extreme loneliness claws at my heart… as I’m forced time and time again to escape into the deep oblivion of survival. But I’m not writing this story to invite you to join my pity party. In fact, my intent is just the opposite. Yes, the Uglyhead is my new reality …but it is not my identity. Yes, I don’t have control over my life …but I still have a choice of how I’m going to live it.
Fade in…the Port of San Basilio, Venice, Italy…
About 15 minutes after we hit the open waters of the sea, I knew that even after a week of suffering…I had yet to reach the pinnacle of my misery. I can’t really put words to that Ferry ride. Other than one day last year when my mom rushed me to the emergency room…I have never been that profoundly nauseated. About an hour and half into the trip, I remember contemplating jumping overboard. Anna handed me one of the barf bags stashed in the seats of the Ferry. I swallowed more pills and literally begged God to take away the misery. I’d been here before…and I knew if I started to vomit, I wouldn’t stop…for a very, very long time. Once again, I closed out everything around me and chanted over and over in my head “Please, God. Please. Please, God. Please.” Where are you?
Eventually, we landed at the port of San Basilio. But, unfortunately, we found ourselves on a floating city…with the prospect of yet more water transportation ahead of us. After we made our way through customs, Anna overheard a little Italian man asking if anyone needed a taxi. A real taxi. With tires. A minivan…big enough to fit our luggage. So, after a short 15 minute ride to our mainland hotel, I crawled into bed and sank into a deep sleep. I hadn’t vomited…the pills finally kicked in.
That evening, on our last night in Europe, we all sat around in the living room of our hotel room talking about the Sabbath. Mom and Bernie had prepared some fun things to do to celebrate the Sabbath while in Rovinj, but because of illness…we never got around to it. As mom talked about the faithfulness of God, I felt a deep rage boiling within me. It had been there for months…but this felt like the last straw. It felt like I had been betrayed by the God who I had trusted with my deepest desires. I couldn’t keep it inside anymore…and as my mom and friends sat next to me, I wept. And then I wept some more. Why would the God that I’ve served since I was five…deny me the ability to enjoy His creation? Why would He tease me with a feast of Klimt exhibits and sunsets…if He knew I was going to get sick? Two weeks…that’s all I’d asked for. But, I had not gotten a pass. I didn’t get to forget about my broken body. He had not protected me. Once again, I was forced just to survive. I was weary of surviving. My heart was broken.
Fade in…present time…
I have read the Psalms many times. To be honest, I always thought David was a wee bit melodramatic. Flood your bed with weeping? Your couch drenched in tears? Your tears are your food day and night? Really? Come on, David…suck it up. But today Psalm 42 resonates in a painfully familiar way. It reads almost word-for-word like the inner voice that has been on repeat in my head since I got my diagnosis:
I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt
me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?”
After a 24 hour day of mind-numbing airplane rides and layovers…I eventually made it back to my bed. And my dog. Since getting home, I’ve been visited by the stupid-uglyhead several times. There has been no magic cure. There is no storybook ending. But as the days pass, and I get further and further away from the misery of my European dream vacation…something significant has floated to the surface. Something life-altering, in fact.
On May 3rd, 2012…on the ferry ride from hell…I didn’t throw up. The barf bag…never got used. I didn’t throw up.
To some, this may seem like a small detail in a story rife with misery. But for me…it brings tears to my eyes. I didn’t throw up. He heard my cries. Despite a petulant daughter’s heart full of rage…He faithfully carried me across the Adriatic Sea. It means even as I was accusing Him of betrayal, He didn’t abandon me. It’s a small, significant moment in time that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt…that the God who feels so far away, was holding me through my suffering.
You know, I may never know why the Father didn’t give me a pass in Europe. I may never know why He hasn’t cured me from a vicious chronic illness. I would be lying if I claimed that I wasn’t still a little bit angry about both of those things. No, I still struggle…almost every day. But now when I look back at the story of Europe…this is what I remember:
He gave me one week of unfettered health to explore a new country with some of my favorite people. He provided a kind innkeeper who let me rest away from the chaos. He knew I couldn’t handle a ferry ride across the sea on the first day of the Uglyhead, so He provided a minivan to drive me to Croatia. He knew I was going to be sick, so He held off the worst of the nausea until I could rest in a cozy little apartment. He gave me a little Italian man to drive me in a taxi…because He knew I couldn’t survive another boat ride. He gave me my mom and best friends to watch over of me. And, most of all, He carried me across the Adriatic as I clutched a barf bag and cried out for mercy.
Huh. What do you know…I ended up telling the world about His goodness after all. High five, Rock of Ages…high five.