Notes from the Wayside - February 2023

Wayside Shrine in Bohlingen, Germany
Ever since a car smashed into me on my way to work on July 27th, 2013, pain has been a daily part of my life. And I do not mean the trivial pain of a stubbed toe or a bonked elbow, but an agonizing, all-consuming pain, as the nerves that travel into my neck, shoulder, arm, and hand were crushed inside of my chest by the impact. In the last decade I have endured surgeries to remove rib bones and muscles to relieve compression, various injections with needles of indecent size, years of physical therapy, medications, alternative remedies… the list goes on and on. (The question, “have you tried ___?” is the bane of anyone with a chronic health issue.) Matty and I have spent a small fortune on such treatments, which work for a while, or work a little bit, or sometimes don’t work at all.

Not only my life, but our family’s life, is continually being shaped by the effects of my accident. Matty comes home from a 12-hour shift and still has to do those household chores which are impossible for me to do (that is, almost all of them), and sometimes has to stay home from work because I cannot safely tend to our three children. My little ones all know that because of “mommy’s bad arm” I can’t carry them, or play ball with them, and sometimes have had to feed them from a dish on the floor when my arm was too weak to lift them up into their highchairs. More often than I care to admit, my children have looked on helplessly as I sob on the couch, with my head in my hands, because the pain is more than I can bear.

And yet most people do not know about this private reality for our family because, to look at me, it appears that nothing is wrong. You cannot see from the outside that my insides are mangled and broken; I look “fine”, even when I am not. I have learned that conditions like mine are now referred to as invisible disabilities, meaning, disabilities which are not immediately apparent to others, but still significantly impact and inhibit a person’s daily life. Thankfully, awareness of invisible disabilities is increasing, and as a society we are becoming more sensitive to the idea that a person’s suffering is real and valid even if we can’t see it.
This is good news for everyone, because all of us, whether we are disabled or not, hurt inside in ways that other people cannot see. Our pain might not necessarily be caused by a physical ailment, but perhaps a mental, emotional, and/or spiritual wound that plagues us and causes us to stagger through our day with a metaphorical limp. “Everybody Hurts”, as the old REM song says, and yet it is my experience that as long as we seem okay, or look okay, or say we’re okay, people assume that’s the end of the story. So often, we miss the subtle signs that tell us someone is really not okay.

This fall, our Executive Director at the Faber Institute, Rick Ganz, went on a two-week boating adventure through the Grand Canyon. At the head of each dory was a guide, the Master Boatman, who steered the boat and looked after the safety of his passengers. Rick told me how the Master Boatman was so well-acquainted with the river that he could “read” the surface of the water: a certain ripple might tell him that the current was changing, or that a waterfall was ahead; a swirl on the face of the water could mean that a massive rock lay hidden in its depths. The Master Boatman’s long friendship with the river and his love of the wild taught him how to use his senses to understand what was going on deep inside the water, beyond the reach of his eyes.

So it was with Jesus and His people. Jesus had a way of beholding a person that took in not only what was visible about them, but also what was invisible inside of them. His capacity to see beyond the visible was not some sort of parlor trick or “psychic ability”, but a product of his real commitment to relationship and his genuine care for people. Just as the Master Boatman’s relationship with the Colorado River taught him to read its secrets, Jesus’ love for God’s children trained him to notice what most of us can’t see (or don’t, or won’t see) in each other. When Jesus met a leper, he didn’t just see the gruesome effects of their disease, but the pain inside of them, their loneliness and shame for being infectious; when a hemorrhaging woman touched his garment, Jesus saw not just another face in the crowd, but the face of one who had long suffered the isolation and humiliation of being called “unclean”.  Jesus showed us what it looks like to receive an entire person, without assuming that our eyes can tell us everything we need to know about them.

Now, we will probably never be as devastatingly accurate as Jesus was at reading a person’s soul. We might not be able to predict or identify exactly what is happening in someone. But perhaps the world would be a lot more bearable if we all made a greater effort to remember that people are so much bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. There is a deep, complex world hidden in each of us, and whether we have a gimpy arm that was ruined in a car accident, or a recent loss of someone dear to us, or a long-standing wound from childhood, we are all full of pain and beauty and mystery just below the surface.

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