Just call our house the Webster Infirmary.
They started dropping like flies. Victim One, the hubs.
After that, it was the domino effect. One after the other, they coughed their way under the covers and slept for days. The outbreak commenced on the weekend before the annual ice storm when the city shuts down and waits for a melt—including the doctor’s offices. So, no Tamiflu for us.
It was kind of fun at first, nursing my loves with chicken soup and experimenting with homeopathic remedies until it took me down too. Then I began to wonder if my back ached from the flu or too much alone time with my mattress. The dog sniffed out the dirty Kleenexes lying around and gobbled them up like fine European chocolate. We all rode it out teeth chattering under a mound of blankets but it went on and on like 20th century minimalist music. To entertain ourselves, we watched internet episodes of Fixer Upper on HGTV because we can’t even escape home renovations when we’re sick.
In my most lucid moments, an hour after a dose of Ibuprofen, in the supine, I prayed.
And I reflected on my parents and their individual elongated bedridden seasons of life.
Dad spent years in the tuberculosis sanitorium coughing his guts out—literally. Drenched in his own sweat, cut open from neck to navel, lung packed, wondering about a cure. It was in the supine, he met God and the two became friends. It was the supine that postured him for a lifelong rhythm of prayer. And a long life it was, thanks be to God and Arythromycin.
Mom lived like the Energizer bunny until God laid her low in that last decade of life. A massive stroke set the wheels in motion. She lost her mobility, then her mental clarity. Productivity vanished and she became utterly dependent on others even to bring the spoon to the mouth. She spent years in the supine, looking up at ceiling tile from the prison of old age.
Both of my parents were promoted to eternity as winter was on the cusp of going green. On the calendar this day, we’re sandwiched between their heavenly birthdays. So I am musing with gratitude for their example and pausing long to reflect on life, death and the forces of evil.
In my family’s story, we all started to come alive again after about a week. The bedding got washed in hot and we were starting to feel happy when I got hit with round two. The cough set in–the deep jolting one that starts to talk in my chest when I breathe. I’d been here before—a few too many times. Hesitantly, I made an appointment with my doc. An Xray confirmed what I already knew. Pneumonia, again. I’m not sure what’s worse about pneumonia, the jarring cough or the anxiety I experience about treatment.
It took me about three rounds of pneumonia to connect the dots and realize there was a correlation between my erratic heartbeat and and my prescribed antibiotic. Those were scary days and weeks. A person is powerless to tell the heart how to behave. I took for granted the master design of my autonomic nervous system and when it malfunctioned, I was unnerved. Eventually that drug got added to my black list but it’s replacement is even more foreboding—a drug with more warnings than a child’s list to Santa. The only thing that makes me more fearful than taking a med that hasn’t agreed with me, is taking an unknown med so I tried to negotiate another plan with my doc but she was not to be convinced.
I picked up the prescription from the pharmacy and opened the bottle, multiple times over the next 48 hours. I tried to ingest the first pill but I just couldn’t. I was like little Piglet in Winnie the Pooh, shaking and cowering saying “Oh deary, dear,” so I wrote the doc an email and asked again. “Can we try a different plan?” And she responded, “No. Take the medicine.” So, I breathed deeply and swallowed the first pill with a big glass of water. While I smiled on the outside, just below the surface a battle raged. And it was about more than just the antibiotics.
It’s a Thirteen Year War.
It started that hot September day I got introduced to the great state of Texas. We’d arrived at our new home the night before and were all disappointed. The baby spiked a fever. It was 100 plus degrees outside and almost that inside as the movers propped the door open delivering our belongings. Meanwhile the baby lay in a sweaty, lethargic heap on cat hair covered carpeting. It was just me and the girls again, first packing up on the Michigan side then unpacking in Texas, the hubs already teaching in his new classroom. And on that day, my sense of aloneness was more staggering than the heat index. As I stood on the sidewalk watching the movers drive away, my own version of Wormwood whispered this accusation. “You’re going to die here.”
“You’ll never go back home.”
Rationally, I reminded myself that God’s words promise “a future and a hope” rather than morbid, despairing pronouncements but some things known are still a battle to feel. Messages that permeate into vulnerable places within our souls can be talked sense to all day long. You can read scripture to them and even pray about them but the psychological and spiritual battle feels like a marathon with demonic soldiers hiding behind a forest of trees shooting their arrows unsuspectingly.
I remember that first spring we packed up the van to go back home for the summer.
Wormwood whispered again and I was consumed with irrational fear and anxiety.
On our road trip, we ran out of gas in Arkansas and coasted over to the berm. Cars whizzed by. Our van shook incessantly.
It was just me and the girls again. The hubs took a ride from strangers to the closest gas station. Back in the day before everybody had cell phones and Find Friends, I wondered if he would return safely. I questioned the folks who gave him a lift. I hoped they were benevolent angels and not dark demons. I projected possibilities while stranded and alone with three little girls in the dark of night. We waited and sang and prayed until the hubs returned with a gallon of gas then we kept driving until we spotted the “Welcome to Michigan” sign and tears fell like Niagara Falls. I’d made it. Home. Alive. Wormwood‘s curse defeated.
But while I tucked this monumental victory under my belt, that demon continued to torment me.
Like the times my mammograms were abnormal.
And when the antibiotics made my heart go wonky.
That brings us to today. We’re on the cusp of a great adventure. Our Texas house has a For Sale sign out front and I’m going shopping for a new one in Michigan next week.
But Wormwood came to visit again. He’s hissing threats and my melancholy imagination runs wild.
It’s the same old story, like a song on constant repeat, “You’re never going home. You’re going to die here.”
And while I’m not afraid to die, honestly, I’m just not ready to go here or yet.
So as I write, I expose my vulnerability, mostly for the sake of my girls. I take my responsibility to live authentically seriously and name my demons, in part, so they will know they can name theirs.
I want to remind them that we don’t fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.
To invite them to process their struggles, to wonder at and articulate the secrets of the soul.
I hope that they will see me embracing the mysteries in each new day, trusting the sovereign, loving hand of my Father who knows my story beginning to end and everything in between.
Pneumonia or not.
Antibiotics or not.
Michigan or not.
It’s all good because it’s all going somewhere. And God knows where.
(I wrote this in March 2015 then tucked it away in the rush of our cross country move–back to Michigan where I’ve continued to live my story for almost two years now.)