I’ve lived for the past six years with chronic, phantom, pain caused by scar tissue that developed after radiation treatment for a brain tumour. Today, exactly half of my body is affected by aching, burning, stinging, or stabbing pain. It’s a white-hot searing sheet of pain that splits my bones.
My boys regularly beg Jesus for my comfort. “Are you in pain, Mao?” they ask. They call me
Mao, which means “cat” in Chinese. “Dear Jesus, please take Mao’s pain away forever.” They pray and pray with longing and persistence. But, despite their pleas, they haven’t seen an answer. My pain persists. And I worry. I worry that their unanswered prayers for healing will lead them to believe that God doesn’t care or listen. How desperately I want them to believe that God is good and loving.
I fear that my unresolved pain may become the origin of a real gripe they will take out against God.
Romans 8:28 says, “God works everything for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purposes.” If I were someone else looking in at my family, I could easily see how God is using my disability to benefit my sons. I’d see that this experience is nurturing them to be caring, sensitive, and intuitive boys who will someday be men able to look deeply and compassionately at the challenges in others’ lives. But for me in this moment, everything seems crazily bent out of shape. The future seems doomed to bring only more pain, physically and spiritually, to me and my family.
And yet, thinking about me, I can see God simultaneously shifting my perspective from doom to eternity.
My life, in the space of eternity, barely represents a dot. God sees “me” - not in this moment - but “Me” across and outside of time. God sees me in an eternal way where he is somehow eternally creating and recreating me. Sometimes I can grasp how time ceases to be a factor with God, because I have some memories that are so vivid that it feels as if I’m actually able to relive them. It’s as if the fact that I’m almost thirty-four doesn’t matter – time doesn’t exist when I remember being five-years-old, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, and thirty-years-old so vividly.
Here’s an example. When I was twelve, I loved going for long walks by myself. There was a new street on the edge of town, and I loved walking it, talking to God and praising him as the sun sank below the horizon, shooting colors across the sky. Sometimes I would hunker down in the long grass, soaking in the joy, peace, and beauty that was all around me. I decided to name it "Jesus Street," because I loved the communion I felt with the Lord there.
When I think back to being on Jesus Street, I can still smell the smells, feel the feels, hear the sounds. I can still enter communion with God just by recalling the memory. And when I do this….am I not tasting eternity? What has really changed? I am I. God is God. We still commune. I still feel the joy of being on Jesus Street as a real and alive emotion. Even though I feel messed up in this moment at age thirty-four, I feel the peace and joy of former times alive now today.
When we first moved back from China, we lived in a little one-room cabin where the four of us all slept, lived and cooked for eight months while we gutted and renovated an old farmhouse. My husband James worked in town while the boys and I stayed home. We would do school work and clean up the yard. It’s a gorgeous farm, and there is evidence all around that its founders cared about beauty. We have a giant slough that looks like a little lake on one side and giant pond on the other.
But the isolation and abandoned feeling of the land creeped me out when we first arrived. Coyotes, bears, skunks, badgers, snakes, moose, deer and vegetation had been busily reclaiming this land for the wild before we moved in. What was I doing there?, I wondered to myself.
Every morning when James drove away to work, I would leave the cabin to see him off. As I watched the car retreat, I would feel overwhelmed by the vastness of this “human-less“ space that surrounded me. It was so beautiful, but so empty. It felt like me.
I would walk by the slough soaking in the scent of the grass and the water. I’d feel a rush of beauty as the sun rose and as the wild ducks and choruses of birds sang their praises to God. I felt my “nothingness” in that place, and yet I returned every morning to have my nothing filled up again. The peace I felt in this nothingness echoes moments of being on Jesus Street, but also of some future when I’m eighty years old, still myself experiencing the Nothing and the Everything of me and of God. I’m not messed up in those places.
Recently, a song from when I was a teenager and attending church youth group gatherings (another contact with eternity) came to mind. The words are:
"I cry a silent prayer
That comes out of me
It’s a mystery
Come wash over me
Wash over me
‘Til I can’t take any more
And I dream that my voice is heard
In a secret place
Where I bare my face
Come wash over me
Wash over me
‘Til I can’t take any more"
I’m realizing the mystery of standing before God, not as a thirty-four year old who feels bound by pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it, but as an entire timeline of Jessica rolled up into one dot in eternity. The twelve-year-old on Jesus Street, the youth, the missionary, the thirty-four-year-old, the eighty-year-old. All those times and those moments touch common denominators: Me, God, Nothing, and Everything. It’s me, being saved from myself by a God who does not desire to crush me.
It’s me and God in eternity, right now and forever. It’s Corinthians 4:17-18. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Jessica Frey lives in Manitoba in Canada. She and her husband James worked as missionaries and humanitarian workers in China for three and a half years and found it very enjoyable. She was first diagnosed with a brain tumour while in China. More about Jessica's life and experiences with the tumour and their life afterward can be found at https://mainlandmessage.blogspot.ca/.