For the last six months or so, I have been struggling with asthma. I woke up on a Sunday morning with a severe shortness of breath, which the next day was diagnosed as “mild persistent asthma.” I was given various medicines, which created a variety of side effects in other parts of my body, such as weakness, tingling, and sleeplessness. Moreover, the shortness of breath seemed to come and go at unexpected times, not lending itself to a clear cause-effect diagnosis. Along with the asthma, acute anxiety has sometimes surfaced, as either a cause or an effect of the asthma or both – I’m not sure. Just when I would think I was getting my health and emotions “under control,” something would happen to send me in a tailspin of anxiety and breathlessness again. I don’t know from day to day if I will feel better or worse, so that now I approach each new morning wondering how I will feel, and how much energy and breath I will have that day.
Before this struggle began, I was a person who felt like his life was in control. I had my health and when I faced a health challenge, I was usually able to muster the strength or resolve to “get through it” and feel better again. That strategy no longer works. As a result, at times this whole experience has done a number on my self-esteem and self-confidence, but it also has brought me a new appreciation of the grace that awaits one each day. I no longer struggle like I did back in November; the medicines I take seem to be keeping me in balance and I have a sense of normalcy again, but I certainly don’t take my health for granted like I did before.
As I have reflected on the one year anniversary of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and followed the efforts in Japan to respond to the tsunami and earthquake that occurred in that country, I have been reminded that it is not just my life, but all of life that is beyond our control. Like I did with my health, we can delude ourselves into thinking that we have things in hand, but in fact all of life is flux and change, and we don’t have a stop or reset button to bring things back to zero. Sometimes we must just ride the wave and see where it takes us.
As I have gone through my experience I have sustained myself with the thought that in the Spring I will feel better. Somehow the cycle from winter to spring mirrors our journey from pain through struggle to hope, from losing control to surrender to acceptance. That passage from Winter to Spring is also reflected in the passage through Lent, to Holy Week and to Easter.
Recently, I came a cross a poem by Mary Bernard that compares the passage from winter to spring to Resurrection. One message of this poem is that the passage to Spring does not erase or forget the struggle of Winter, just as the Resurrection of Jesus did not remove the scars of the cross from his body. That is why Jesus could say to Thomas, “Put your hands in the holes in my hands and side” (John 20.25). Though resurrected, Jesus still bore the marks of his suffering. That juxtaposition and paradox is instructive for us. Even as we enjoy grace, hope, life and love, those things come at a price that we bear and carry around with us.
In her poem, Mary Bernard describes the paradox of Resurrection (using the image of winter to spring) this way:
Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold. I’ve found
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair
That life goes on, and times do change
And grass does grow despite life’s pain.
Resurrection comes neither fast nor fair, but it comes. And as grass springs from the rock of suffering, so hope comes through the struggle. May those who struggle find strength and hope in this realization.