My phone alarm goes off, signaling that it’s time for another round of medication. One little pink pill that helps my stomach to empty, one big purple capsule that helps the food stay down, and one tiny white tablet that dissolves on my tongue and temporarily dissolves the nausea. I reset the alarm and settle in to wait for the next round of relief.
I feel like I have spent an entire year waiting. Waiting for appointments, waiting for tests, waiting for results, waiting for prescriptions to be filled, waiting for surgery, waiting for phone calls, waiting for answers, waiting to heal, waiting to get back to living. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I never imagined that last December, when I started vomiting nearly every day, that I would still be looking for a solution a year later. I did not understand how long it can take to heal a body that has broken down and how helpless patients are in speeding that process.
I’m a driver, a “high D” for those of you familiar with the DISC assessment. An Eight for you Enneagram types. I thrive on moving things forward and live life as one big glorious race to a thousand finish lines that I set up every day. I value autonomy above almost all else, and I find assurance in my ability to influence outcomes. This year of illness has robbed much of my autonomy and has shattered my illusions of influence. At twenty-four, I am staying with my parents, am unable to work, and no matter how often I call my doctor, I cannot make lab work come back any faster. And so, I have found myself waiting, and trying very hard to find purpose in this suddenly blank space.
Perhaps in gracious irony, some of the hardest weeks of waiting coincided with Advent. I went out of work on December 6, just a few days after an appointment at which I was placed on a liquid formula diet to help me maintain my weight and was instructed (you guessed it) to wait for labs to come back. Our hope was that in fifteen neatly labelled vials of blood, there might be an explanation of why my stomach has decided to stop working. As the winter solstice approached, my heart and my head fell into darkness with the days. Each day was the same: meds, formula, sleep, wait for the phone. My life, so full of color, had gone blank and black, like a night with no stars.
In the dark, I turned to the light of others, and encountered this wisdom from Henri Nouwen:
We seem to have a fear of empty spaces…we want to fill up what is empty. Our lives stay very full. And when we are not blinded by busyness, we fill our inner space with guilt about things of the past or worries about things to come. Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that leads us to a place we might not want to go. I might not want to hear what God has to say.
There can be creativity in darkness. In the absence of all else, great newness can spring forth. Indeed, out of darkness came the glory of creation. But over the last year, I have watched my beloved life slip through my fingers like dry sand, and I would rather just have all of those grains back instead of participating in any kind of new creation. But time, and nature, and the flow of life around us pulls us on—even when we sit in a puddle of inertia. The new year still comes. The days get longer. Test results do eventually come back.
This is the grace of God: that in our darkest grief and our most motionless despondency, He continues to move. In all of this waiting and in these days of stillness, the bulbs are in the mud, fighting the frost, fighting towards the sun.
I don’t know when I’ll be strong enough to go back to work, or to go skiing. I don’t know when I’ll be able to eat pizza again (and I really want to eat pizza again). I don’t know if I’ll be able to have a well-crafted cocktail anytime in the foreseeable future. Deeper grief comes when I wonder about dating—about finding a partner for the next adventures. I worry that I might have to move home.
There is no easy hope in this kind of darkness. And there is no hope except by way of grief. The joy I find in these days of waiting comes from wondering about what newness might come out of the space made by loss. Our creativity is limited by what we know, but God works best out of nothing and out of our weakness. In this faith I sit, waiting in the dark.