Writing About Pain

“Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.”

-Frederick Buechner, A Crazy, Holy Grace (p. 28)


I’m writing a book about my pain.

We each have our unique pains. For me it was (and still is) an anxious heart and self-critical mind. It was hours spent in bed as a sixteen-year-old, staring at the ceiling, too hot under my comforter but too tired to take it off.

The book began over two years ago, and I decided to call it Is It Well? An Anxious Love Story. I started writing and couldn’t stop. Something drove me deeper, deeper, deeper into my memories. Something encouraged me to open up that space in my brain, set a table for two, and gently interview my former self, blinking hard in the light, draped in that comforter.

I came upon a strong metaphor for my anxiety. I imagined it as an ivy, growing up and around my brain, squeezing and choking out the sunlight, occasionally causing panic attacks, sending me headlong into water, pulsating the life out of my head and making it feel like I’m drowning.

The ivy and the drowning would sit nestled between two baptisms—I knew I wanted to begin and end the book with a baptism, to give the feeling of being under water, stuck in the Saturday between Friday and Sunday. No one stressed to me growing up that baptism represents death to self and the world. That it is death before it is life.

Anchoring all of the book would be Psalm 23.

He leads me beside still waters.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

His rod and his staff.

He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy.

I began writing this because I thought I was on the other side of it all. But I started writing and was sent headlong into months of waters. My ivy grew large and leafy, growing over its trellises—stronger than my medication—and choked the air and the light from my brain. My windows were covered, my door knob was jammed; I was lost in my head.

I went for a run one day and thought about my book—which, by extension, meant thinking about myself. I pulled up the chair in the room I had cleared, dark without sunlight, and talked with myself—both my sixteen and twenty-three-year-old selves simultaneously.

I am tired, I said.

I am tired, too, I said back to myself.

I am anxious.

I am anxious too.

One mile into my run, I had a vision. It burst into our dark room like a shooting star.

I saw a picture of Jesus dead on the cross. Blood came from his wrists, his ankles, and his forehead—trickling streams flowing over cracked and defined river beds. His side was open from the spear, and from the opening, flowing with blood, grew ivy. This ivy extended chronologically through Friday, through Saturday, and into Sunday. It wrapped around the stone covering the tomb and continued growing over the three days.

I thought about my own life and how my ivy makes this room feel like a tomb. I ran home and wrote about my vision, about Jesus and his ivy.

Over the next few days I thought about that verse in Psalm 23—You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies—why would anyone want to eat at a table with their enemies? It doesn’t matter how good the food was, I didn’t think I’d want to eat there.

I thought about Jesus, eating at the last supper. The disciples reclining in a dark room, Judas’s face lit by candle light, his silhouette growing black against the tapestry of history. Jesus not only sat and ate, but he broke the bread and poured the wine and told his disciples to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood.

To partake in his story.

To nourish in his pain, in a broken body and spilt blood.

I began to think God was guiding me towards healing, book and all.

Perhaps the first step was that verse in Psalm 23. Perhaps it looked like learning how to eat at the table God places before me. I couldn’t control where the table was just like I couldn’t control the initial onslaught of tangled ivy. But I could learn how to eat, I could learn how to trim the trellises.

I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist.

I switched medications.

I sought the healing power of God and community.

His rod and his staff, they comfort me.

The next step, I sensed, was following Jesus’ example. When I’ve learned how to eat at the table before me, in the presence of my anxiety, I can begin to break my own bread and pour my own wine, share my story for others’ nourishment.

I felt that would be this book. This book was a breaking of my bread, a pouring of my wine. Here is my pain, here is my brokenness; take and eat and drink, may your cups overflow.

Finally, I imagine the ivy around Jesus’s tomb on Sunday morning, I envision it blossoming—loosening and producing white petals catching sunlight and dew. The stone moves and Jesus emerges in the garden with his wounds intact—the holes in his hands, the holes in his feet, and the hole in his side—creation and pain redeemed, scars covering a body pulsating with life.

I see Mary turning from the empty tomb and crying, surrounded by the lushness of new life and white lilies. I see her approach Jesus. I see her mistaking him for the gardener.

My sixteen and twenty-three-year-old selves lean forward in their seats.

“Mary,” he says.

“Drew,” he says.

There, in that garden, I find it terribly and beautifully fitting she thought he was the gardener.

Perhaps in one way he is.

 I’m currently on page 138 and working hard to finish it up. If you’d be interested in reading something like this, would you put your name and email in the line below? Today to be a published author, you have to have about 20,000 followers (and I’m not super interested in faking my way to that many people). So I figure I can just share what I’m working on and see if people would be interested. If you know someone who may like this type of thing, would you let them know? I’m pretty excited and trusting the right eyes will see it.

 You people rock.

I’m Interested In This Book Of Yours!

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