I’d answered my phone joking.
“Did you lock yourself in the chicken coop again?” It wouldn’t be the first time she’d gone out in the morning to feed the chickens and collect eggs to find the latch had locked her in.
“I fell, I’m hurt . . . I think I broke my back.” Strangled and gasping for breath, I’d never heard my mom sound like that.
I ran out the back door toward the chicken coop. She was crumpled in the dirt, the giant compost bin pinning her. One red muck boot lay off to the side, the impact had thrown her back and it had launched from her foot. I couldn’t lift the bin straight up so I pushed it aside, terrified I’d break her more. Her anguished cries rang through the tops of our pine trees. The chickens side-eyed us and resumed pecking the ground.
She could move her legs. Tiny body draped over mine, we walked in tandem, and I let myself hope she’d only have a terrible bruise and limp for a bit. Maybe it wasn’t so bad.
But then I saw her face and I knew. I know the look of someone trying to hold in the pain to make others comfortable. To not make a fuss. To pretend to be fine so the world doesn’t fall apart and days aren’t ruined and plans aren’t canceled.
I know the look of someone hurting where you can’t see it.
Back at the house, my kids were solemn and dutiful, grabbing her a sweater and phone charger, clean underwear and a toothbrush, just in case. I ran a brush through my hair and threw on clothes.
My children prayed. They’re acquainted with crisis. They’ve witnessed me being packed up and whisked off to the emergency room and know the drill. Pray, wait, hope. Often, that’s all we can do.
My foot pressed on the gas once we hit the highway. I stopped glancing in my rearview mirror because I could feel the swell of anxiety cresting up my ribs, the clench of nerves and cortisol and adrenaline as my heart pounded beastly like rams horns battering my chest with rhythmic thuds.
“I was listening to the Bible on my phone,” she murmured, “about God’s grace being sufficient for His power is made perfect in weakness. And then it toppled on me, right then. It is, you know, no matter what. Be calm, Alia.”
I told her to rest, to stop trying to comfort me. Still, she prayed peace over me, for God’s will, for relief from pain and grace to endure whatever comes. She’s a woman who prays. I nodded but couldn’t help feeling this was too much. She was broken, and panic felt like my lungs were crushing. I was angry that so often when we prayed to take the pain away, Jesus said His grace was sufficient.
I was tired of the message of weakness, and I wanted it gone.
Right then, grace didn’t feel even remotely sufficient.
The x-rays came back hours later showing a fractured T12 vertebra. We were grateful there was no spinal cord damage.
They outfitted her with a clunky brace that wrapped around her core and over her shoulders. She was dwarfed by the hospital bed, tucked on her side where the pain was least. Hours of waiting left her face sunken, and I couldn’t look at her without demanding they do more to ease her pain. Finally, painkillers came and her features softened. Her teeth unclenched and her fists unrolled, her small hands lay open-palmed, a smudge of dirt still smeared across where she had pushed and tried to escape from the compost bin.
Once home, we moved her into our room while Josh opted for the couch. I told her to wake me if she needed anything, that’s what I was there for. I told her not to attempt to move or get up herself. I was up with her to the bathroom, to give her more medicine when she began to moan and cry, to guide the straw to her lips and to pray for her pain.
She said I’m sorry every time she had a need.
“I’m sorry I messed up your travel and speaking plans and you had to cancel.”
“Could I get more water? I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to wake you, but can I have more pain medicine yet?”
With each request, I saw it clearly — how wrong it was to apologize for her weakness, her pain, her needs. How ludicrous it is to apologize to someone who loves you and is serving you and would, if they could, take away your pain even if it meant taking it onto and into their own flesh.
“Mom, I want to do this stuff. Please stop saying you’re sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
This is love. We don’t have to apologize for our needs. We bank on the sufficiency of God. I am my mother’s daughter, and she’s taught me that with her whole life. I can’t not see Jesus in this too.
In our weakness, God’s grace is enough. We meet pain with every good and holy offering even when it seems like too little. We see wounds, and we do not look away. We recognize the faces of the hurting ones and say, “You don’t have to pretend, you can make a fuss here.”
I am with you.
If you’d like to learn more about God’s call on our lives to live out our ministry of weakness while keeping fluent in the language of hope during difficult times, I have a brand new book out, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God In All We Lack!
We don't have to apologize for our needs. We bank on the sufficiency of God. -@aliajoyh: Click To Tweet