Roller Coaster

“I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster,” a patient recently told me. “I’ll be up and then down, up and down. It just never stops.”

No. No it doesn’t seem to.

This patient went on to tell me some of their story. Military service. Troubled family life. Cancer. More cancer.

It resounded with me, the thought of life being like a roller coaster. I think it is an apt metaphor. There are certainly ups and downs. But if you have ever been on a roller coaster, you know it is so much more than the ups and the downs. There are twists and turns you don’t see coming. There are fast parts and slow parts. Heck, there are sometimes even parts that go upside-down.

People react differently to roller coasters. I have liked them since I was little. Emma loves them. Sofia doesn’t, but she is easily motion sick, so I suppose she is excused.

Some people don’t like the slow parts. The anticipation literally mounts as the coaster climbs a hill. You know what is coming, and the slow ascent just prolongs the inevitable.

Some people don’t like the fast parts. Those usually happen as the coaster races down a hill or around a tight turn. They may not like the feeling of being out of control, going so fast that it is hard to tell what is coming next.

It’s like that with life, too, isn’t it? Some parts of life go so slowly. The cancer treatments. The depression. The family problems. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know it is coming, and you just cannot make it come any faster.

Some parts of life go by too quickly. Sometimes it’s the good that goes quickly: the early days and weeks with a new baby, a dream vacation, the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Other parts go quickly but badly: a bad situation gets worse faster than you think it will, an illness progresses rapidly and leaves you reeling.

One thing the hospital has reaffirmed for me is that we are not guaranteed time. Each person’s roller coaster lasts a length that only that person will fully experience. My roller coaster will last longer than some but shorter than others.

Perhaps the most famous Bible verses dealing with time come from Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot,

A time to kill and a time to heal,

A time to tear down and a time to build,

A time to weep and a time to laugh,

A time to mourn and a time to dance….”

The verses go on. It is an extensive list of the things we are given time for. That is the point, I suppose. We might not know how much time we are given, but Solomon tells us that God gave us time to do the many things that come with life. We will laugh and cry, mourn and dance, live and die. We will have ups and downs.

Just like a roller coaster.

Not What I Expected

It’s a phrase I hear frequently in the hospital.  Though not always in those exact words, the same sentiment is still there.

Parents are called in the middle of the night because their college-aged child went to a party and tried to drive home after drinking too much.  “We weren’t expecting this phone call,” they say.

A pregnant woman comes in with some bleeding and cramping several weeks before her due date.  Twelve hours later she is holding the tiny, lifeless baby that arrived before his or her intended time.  “I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” she whispers through tears.

A man brings his wife of several decades to the emergency department because she was complaining of severe pain in her head and loss of vision.  The doctor tells him that she has had a stroke and may never again be the same person.  “I wasn’t expecting this,” he chokes out as he tries to make sense of the diagnosis.

A wife accompanies her husband for a routine check of his heart.  He is rushed into surgery that afternoon because of what the check found.  Two days later, machines have been working for his heart and his lungs.  She holds his hand as the nurse explains that he is already gone.  “I thought we would have more time,” the wife says as she thinks back through what was and what will not be.

“I wasn’t expecting this.”

We never are.  There is never an ideal time for bad news.  We never think the worst will actually come.

Even if it wasn’t death, we’ve all been there.  Maybe it was a bad investment.  Maybe it was a divorce that blindsided you.  Maybe it was a job that was here yesterday but gone today.  Maybe it was a medical diagnosis that will stick with you.

“I wasn’t expecting this.”

We are in the Easter season, which always makes me wonder what went through Jesus’s mind in his last few weeks of life.  He knew where he was going.  He knew what fate would meet him there.

But as the whip cut through the flesh on his back, was he ready for the pain?  As they jammed a crown of thorns onto his head, was he prepared for their sting?  As he stumbled while carrying his cross, was he ready for its immense weight and for the splinters that dug into his skin?  As they nailed his hands and feet, as they hoisted the cross into place, as the weight of his body pulled down against the nails, as his lungs failed him…was he physically ready for it all?  Did he have a moment anywhere in there in which he thought, “I wasn’t expecting this”?

But.

As his earthly sight failed and he was reunited with his Father, was he expecting the joy, love, and completeness that I imagine he felt?  As God embraced him and whispered, “You did it. I’m so proud of you.  I love you so much,” was he expecting the perfect oneness with God?  Knowing that the role for which he had been born, the role which would save all of humanity, was fulfilled, was he expecting the relief?

As I stand in a patient’s room after they have died, I sometimes wonder what they felt as they met their Savior.  Was it anything like they had imagined?  Was it peaceful and comforting, or joyous and celebratory?  Are there words to describe it at all?  If there are, might those words be…

“I wasn’t expecting this.”

Writer’s block, or some such nonsense.

I have some severe writer’s block.  I’m gonna blame it on grad school.

It isn’t that I don’t have ideas.  As I walk around the hospital at night, I get plenty of ideas.  I’ve planned out the entire introductory chapter of a novel in my head.  I’ve composed two poems in my head.  I’ve come up with about six pretty decent ideas for new blog posts.

All of these sound great in my head.  As soon as they hit paper, though, I hate them.  I’ve written out three blogs in the last week, and deleted them all.  I wrote one about my mental health (spoiler alert: it’s not great at the moment).  I wrote one about the end of my first eight weeks of doctoral studies (that post was entirely too conceited to be interesting).  I even wrote one at 4:00 this morning about my misadventures at the hospital over the weekend (that blog was never going anywhere from the start).  I scrapped them all.

As I took my dogs for a frustrating walk a little while ago, I tried to analyze where I went wrong with what I had written.  My conclusion was that it was all to self-focused.  I can admit that.  I did manage to pick out a few themes that ran through the three posts, though.

First, I’ve really struggled lately.  My first two classes in this counseling program were rough.  I learned too late that NO ONE in my program takes two eight-week classes at the same time.  It’s literally too much work.  Each class is the equivalent of a full 16-week semester in half the time.  It totally drained me, physically and emotionally.  I walked around like a zombie due to insufficient sleep.  I vacillated between emotional numbness and emotional overload all the time.  I emerged with two A’s, but at what cost?  (Answer: several standing counseling appointments, a new antidepressant, and about five extra pounds from stress eating.)

Second, I have a better support system than I realized.  It took several weeks for me to admit to anyone that I needed help, even though a few people picked up on it before I said a word.  When I did, though, people had my back in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  My boss arranged for some of my coworkers to take over my shifts one weekend because I needed time and sleep.  Friends at work stopped by multiple times to check on me, periodically delivering chocolate and coffee without being asked.  Friends from other states and even other countries (MD, you rock my socks!) called to encourage me.  My brother, who is one of the closest people in my world, called me out on idiocy when needed.  My amazing husband and kids did so much housework it’s ridiculous.  I don’t know when I’ve ever felt more loved.

Third, The Almighty has provided even when I haven’t asked for help or thanked him for it.  This one is perhaps the hardest to admit.  Spiritually, I’m not where I need to be.  I haven’t been praying as I should have been.  And you know what?  God loves me just the same anyway.  Whether I ask for help or not, he provides it exactly when needed.  My support system?  That isn’t a coincidence.  My grades?  Not just my efforts.  Have I said thank you?  Not nearly enough.  Is God holding it against me?  Absolutely not.

Everyone goes through rough spots from time to time, and I guess it’s my turn right now. It will get better, because things usually have a way of working out.

I’ve made it through a blog post, finally.  I may not even delete this one.

Take that, writer’s block.