I’ve been reading a lot of Susanna Childress lately. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a poet. I got to meet her a few years ago, which was one of the literary highlights of my life, second only to meeting Brian Jacques.
Photographic proof that I did meet Brian Jacques. Also that I’ve been hopelessly nerdy for pretty much my whole life.
Anyway, I really appreciate Susanna Childress as a writer, now especially since she’s the only author I know who has written about having an echocardiogram and made it thereby less horrible. One of my favorite poems of hers is “In the Middle of a Long Illness.” A lot of the poem is about her husband, which I don’t relate to on a personal experience level, but these four lines kill me every time because she knows:
“you know it’s a trick, you know it’s not radiance you hate, nor the snow-crusted
shoulders of girls who never stop laughing or the boys at their sides
having, inevitably, said the right thing: it’s you, whole glitches of your heart
holding forth, how you’ve begun to stop yourself from laughing.”
In the middle of my own long illness, I can attest to the truth of her words.
It’s me I hate.
How I can’t get out of bed some days because everything hurts too much.
How I find excuses to keep from risking rejection.
How I want to connect to people but never seem to find the words.
How I hold myself back from joy and hope.
How I keep failing.
It’s not just cancer. Whole glitches of my heart have been holding forth for as long as I can remember.
It was super popular at my college for professors to say “Already and not yet!” when they talked about the kingdom of God. But we always were talking big picture about people dying of preventable diseases, or broken governments, or disasters in the history of the Church. I did have to skip a lot of classes for health reasons, so there’s a chance I missed all the lectures on what to do when “already and not yet” comes down to your life.
What do you do when the already and not yet kingdom of God is beating constantly within the confines of your own heart? How do you cope with the tension between the brokenness of who you are now and the redemption God has promised in His infinite love and mercy?
Sometimes I see glimmers of my heart as it will be, when the not yet turns to now. It’s a blessing and a relief to know that I won’t be like this forever. And when I think about how much the Lord has already done in my life I’m reminded of how great His everlasting love is.
But there are some things—cancer, depression, anxiety—that may not go away in this life. Certainly sin will be a factor for the duration. The glitches go hand in hand with the long illness.
The bare truth of it is that I’m tired of being the already and not yet me. I’m impatient for the ultimate regeneration of my heart, of the whole of creation. I’ve written about this before: I’m wearied and frustrated by my inability to be as I should be.
Susanna Childress helps again, in my absolute favorite poem of hers, “It’s Bright as Heaven out Here”:
“and I thought maybe
you’d like to know of it, hovering as you are, between
here and there, how what needs to happen will happen
even if it surprises the breath right out of you.”
I’m almost continually conscious of my here and there state, physically and spiritually. When I’m overwhelmed, when there are so many glitches it seems like there’s nothing good left in my heart anymore, I find hope in remembering that what needs to happen will happen, even if it takes longer than I would like.
And I can take comfort as I pray, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
*If you like poetry, look up Susanna Childress. She’s great. I especially love her collection “Entering the House of Awe” because many of the poems deal with illness. Also I got it signed when I met her, and she was lovely.