Three weeks ago, I felt a pack of vermin parachute into my sinuses and start a street fight. I knew the icy/hot running through my veins the first week of September had shot down my immune system and left me there for the taking. I walked around in a cloud for a few days, put the hot pack on my cheek, stumbled through the early school mornings and gave, gave, gave…nursing, playing, teaching. Some days I’d teeter while reading a picture book and fall asleep sitting up.

By the end of week one, I felt an upward swing, but it was only a lull before the real takeover began. Not even my essential oils or hot sauce had been able to send the crud away. Soon, my throat swelled raw and grainy, waking me night after night. As I pictured how useless I’d be in the morning, phrases came to me like they were rising from the steam of the humidifier. I breathed them in, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up.”

Then came the tickle that worked like a reflex in the lungs, pretty much every muscle in my body lunging in unison to kick out the invaders. I’d lay there listening to my husband and baby volley breaths and I’d try to will myself not to cough. I’d count woes instead of sheep, and couldn’t decide which was the worst part of being sick…with the bruised sinus cavity, the aching glands, the pouncing cough, and having to take care of so many others in the middle of my need. I was a hermit for two weeks, only emerging from the house to get my little boy to school, my eyelids rimmed with days-old makeup.

And then, the woe that trumped the others…the baby got it.

It turned her giddy smile to straight face, gummed up her eyes and tried to seal them shut to the wonders all around, turned her soft coos into groans. In the thick of it, I sent my husband down to the guest room so that at least one of us could be functioning on a full-night’s rest.

I’d sort of sleep and then wake to the tickle in my chest, sort of sleep then wake to nurse the thirsty baby, sort of sleep and wake to try the suction gizmo again.

She writhed and let out groans that needed no translation, all the sickness I had felt in myself now coming on strong in her tiny body.

I put my hands over her and whispered, “Lord, please…” Then, like a descant to my crackly prayer, her groaning crescendoed into a sound I’d not yet heard from her.

“Da-da-da-da-da-da-da,” she strung it out in long sorrowful tones, “Da-da. Da-da-da-da.”

She had said “Ma-ma” a couple of weeks earlier, but she’d saved her second baby babble word for this moment. “Da-da-da-da-da.” The syllables rose up from the tiniest of congested lungs, using what breath was in them to cry out her own version of “Abba, Father,” over and again.

I sat quiet in the sacred space for a minute, and then I had another coughing fit that shook us both.

The congestion was still there and sleep wasn’t going to come easy, but somehow Gracia’s unwitting prayer made the sickness and insomnia seem less like a curse and more like a secret chance to commune with the One who never sleeps, the One who breathed the pneuma into us in the first place.

All that said, I’m happy I’ll be communing with Him in corporate worship this weekend after two weeks of absence. Happy Sabbath to you, too!

{As much as I hate not feeling well, I can think of several times in my life when I’ve felt God’s presence in a special way during times of illness, whether minor or more serious. How about you? How does physical suffering affect your spiritual life?}

touchingthehemFor more on God’s work in the midst of sickness and suffering, you may be interested in Elizabeth A. Johnson’s “Touching the Hem: A Biblical Response to Physical Suffering.” It is a thin but thorough volume that calls on Scripture both to form our view on God’s perfect wisdom and love, and to guide in appropriate expectations for our healing. The book is framed with the author’s personal story of dealing with a chronic illness that almost took her life.