My stories stopped.
The ideas didn’t stop coming – they trickle in every now and again. Not with the same frequency as they did before, but once in a while I’ll get a flash of insight.
It was the stories. They left – and I felt abandoned. Utterly heartbroken. They had been a part of who I was for so long, an effortless piece of my heart and mind and soul that poured out of me whenever I asked them to. Even sometimes when I hadn’t.
I’ve never spoken of why they stopped, though I know why. I’ve never told anyone that they’ve stopped. I haven’t written more than a couple of pages for myself in almost three years.
It sounds petty, it sounds immature, it sounds foolish. I had surgery. On May 25th, 2009, I had corrective back surgery for my scoliosis. On May 26th, 2009, they stood me up next to my hospital bed. On May 29th, 2009, they took out the catheter and I was allowed to walk to the bathroom by myself. I hobbled my way over, hand on the wall, head fuzzy with a combination of pain and medication, a nurse at my elbow and my father at my back. My destination was a total of 25 feet away from my room, but it felt like 25 miles.
I grasped the doorknob like a lifeline. I turned and smiled at the attentive nurse, nodded firmly at my father, and closed the door and flipped the lock. I sank to the toilet seat, exhausted. I still had to walk all the way back to my room. I refused to ask them to get the wheelchair for me. I closed my eyes; my breath heaved on a sob. My hand covered my mouth to muffle the sounds. If they heard me they’d come in and roll me back to my bed.
I grabbed the metal bar and stood up, back to the mirror. Undoing the ties on my hospital gown was an adventure, but I was determined to see my back. I manoeuvred into a position in which I could catch a glimpse of my back. It wasn’t easy – I have no mobility in my spine at all. It is encased in $45,000 worth of surgical metal. So I stretched and strained my neck and eyes, and finally I got an eyeful.
My back was swollen, and there was a line of grey-white bandages covering my scar. All along the right side of my lower back, a lurid purple bruise bloomed the size of a volleyball. I shut my eyes at the horrible sight and turned around slowly to look at my face. My hair was dark with dirt and oils. My skin was shiny with the same. I had lost five pounds that I couldn’t really afford to lose. My eyes were sunken and dark, my mouth dry and lips cracked. Bile rose in my throat.
Who was this? Who was this disgusting creature? With the purple skin and shiny face and almost brown hair and the bruised grey eyes?
At seventeen years old, in the bathroom of the hospital wing where I was recovering, stuffed in a body that felt too small and tight and didn’t move properly, in hospital gowns that covered nothing, with bandages on my back and a catheter still in my neck, I lost myself. I had what’s known affectionately in psychology jargon as an identity crisis.
And when I lost myself, I lost my stories.
I won’t say that I found God in that hospital bathroom, because I didn’t. What I found were questions, and uncertainty, and fear. But I’ve never been one to hide behind my fear, so I began to look for answers to my questions. Who was I? What was the point of… me? Just as I began to learn how my “new” body worked, so I learned how my mind and heart worked.
But I began to examine my faith, and found that really, I didn’t have any. I had friends on Sunday mornings. That was why I went to church. I thought about this and found it to be unacceptable. Either I would go to church for the right reason, or I wouldn’t go at all. But what was the right reason?
Going to my friend’s youth group showed me that reason. While it might sound obvious to most people, certainly to most Christians, I discovered that I should be going to church for God. Not for my Sunday school students; not for friends who only spoke to me on Sundays; not to help my pastoral animator; not to make my mother happy; not to “earn” heaven; but to show my reverence and obedience to God. Talk about a lightbulb moment.
Once this was clear to me, it became clear that I was not in the right place to get that for myself. I was getting God more on Friday nights at my friend’s church than I was on Sunday mornings at my own – so I made the switch, to my mother’s dismay and bitter insult.
I found my identity in God, and knew that I was changed. But still I have not found my stories.
I’m afraid. I know that I am a different person than I was before I began the process of finding myself. And in the back of my mind is the niggling fear: What if when I lost myself and found myself again, what if, like my insidious disrespect for my parents, my stories were lost along the way? What if, like my easily fired temper, my stories were diluted?
And I know. I know that the only thing I can do is try. I know that in order to find them, I have to work for it. I know that they won’t come to me as easily as they did before, because they will be stories with more substance than before. Because I have more substance than before.
I know that I don’t have to stop being afraid. Perhaps being afraid will give me an edge that I didn’t have before. But I have to shove that fear into one corner of my mind and let the stories flow in the rest of it. I need to lock the fear into a drawer of my heart and have the stories filling everywhere else. If I’ve never been one to hide behind my fear, why am I doing so now? And what will it take for me to stop?
I realize that my stories are one of the most important things in my life. So why am I letting this apprehension take them away from me? Why aren’t I fighting back, looking for the answers, asking questions until I find the right ones, and spewing words until the right ones come to me? Why, why, why?
Maybe I’m starting. Maybe I have begun with these words. Maybe they will be a first step to what I truly feel to be my calling in God. Maybe starting my blog was another of those steps. Maybe helping others find the right words was another. Maybe I’m doing more to find my stories than I thought I was. But maybe, it isn’t enough. It isn’t deliberate enough. It isn’t active enough. It isn’t faithful enough.
Perhaps, my stories need to know that I have utter faith in them in order to be willing to come out of me once more. Maybe I need to actively chase them down rather than waiting for them to come to me. Maybe I’m going to start doing that right now.