I heard it from my bedroom, a violent retching from deep down in her soul. I ran to her room and saw her sitting up, crying, shaking and looking at me with teary, apologetic eyes. “I’m sorry, Mom. I couldn’t make it to the bathroom.” It is true, there was a mess I hadn’t experienced before, but what I noticed more was the way she shook and the way the pain overtook her. “It’s okay, my love. It’s okay.”
I lifted her weak body off the bed and escorted her slowly to the bathroom, where she sat in front of the toilet. I whispered to her that it would be okay and she was going to be better soon. She shook her head, disbelieving my words because they were so obviously inconsistent with her current state. After hours of cramped legs near the white porcelain and the yellow bath mat, I still rubbed her back and closed my eyes from tiredness. I opened them at one point and looked at this sweet, pained girl who had by miracle of all miracles come from my body.
She sat slightly hunched, shivering, and mouthing words silently. Curious, I tried to read them, and leaned in to hear if any sound came so I could share in what she whispered into the dark. I couldn’t make out the words, and so I asked if she had been praying. “Yes,” she said quietly over a now-sore throat. “What did you say?” She said, “Lord, have mercy on me. Have mercy on me.” My eyes welled with tears and I brushed her hair from her face, realizing that I hadn’t prayed. I hadn’t asked for God’s intervention. I wondered why this hadn’t occurred to me, and at the same time felt endlessly thankful that it had occurred to her. I echoed her prayer, knowing that this was the only thing to do: “Lord, have mercy on her. Have mercy on her.” Then, I noticed a tiny vein on the outer part of her ear; a small mole near her hairline; eyelashes that could sweep the floor they are so long; her warm, feverish skin; her fingers that look like my sister’s fingers.
She cried every half an hour or so, “Mom, I don’t want to throw up. It hurts too much. Why do I have to?” All I could do was to rub her back and say, “I know, my love. But there is something inside that your body knows it needs to get rid of in order for you to get better. Once it’s out, you will feel better. I promise. And I’m right here.” She leans into me. I couldn’t have loved her more in those hours by the toilet. I couldn’t have felt more heavy-hearted as she got rid of what was making her sick. But I have seen this before, experienced it myself, and so I knew, even though she couldn’t see it, that she would get better. I knew that the only way she would begin to heal was to hurt.
There is something deep in my soul that needs to come out. It is hurt from so long ago, when I was about my daughter’s age, and just recently, it has begun to sting my insides, to occupy my waking thoughts, to invade my sleep. This injury prevents me from trusting anyone but God with all of who I am. This old hurt emerged just as suddenly and unexpectedly as the stomach flu. And I make the same protestations and ask the same questions of God that my daughter asked of me: “I don’t want to feel this. It hurts too much. Why do I have to?” I say the same prayer that she whispered into the dark: “Lord, have mercy on me. Have mercy on me.” These are the only words that come.
God sees my tears, hears my cries, carries me gently where I need to go. His heart breaks for the pain, but he will allow it to come, all the while, rubbing my back, hemming me in. He knows that once the toxins are out, I will feel better. He promises me this is so and he sits next to me holding me fast. I lean into him. He studies the hands that he made, the eyelashes he planted, my inmost being that he created and that he alone knows. He sees light where I see only darkness. He could not love me more in these painful hours. He could not feel more heavy-hearted as old hurts arise and are exposed and expunged. But he sees what I can’t see. He knows, even though I disbelieve because it is so obviously inconsistent with my current feeling, that I will get better. He knows that the only way I will begin to heal is to hurt. And so, he leans close and whispers, “I know, my love. I know.”