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About a year ago I shared with you a bit about my personal experiences with anxiety and a new project in centered living I had embarked upon. If you missed that, you can read about it in my Christianity Today article here. Although I’ve dropped in to share a few articles since then, I haven’t written as consistently as I had planned to about the project.
I got derailed.
Has this ever happened to you? You were chugging along when your life was interrupted by a crisis: a job loss or unexpected pregnancy, a sick parent or child, a financial or relationship crisis, an injury or illness. You didn’t see the train coming until it had you flat on your back, unable to breathe and just trying to reorient yourself to get through the day. In a moment, your plans were replaced by the more pressing concern of figuring out how to do life with a cancer diagnosis or as a widow or single parent.
As you may already know if you’ve read any of my articles over the past year, my detour came by way of a rambunctious 3 year old, an 18-inch hulk smash toy and a bedtime tantrum. In a nondescript moment of preparing to put my little guy’s pjs on him last December (which I have, of course, done thousands of times before), the hulk toy came flying out of his chubby little hands and landed directly and perfectly on my eyeball. Although I somehow managed not to let loose a stream of profanities, my screams of pain terrified all three of my boys. My little culprit immediately backed into a corner shrieking, “Don’t pank (spank) me!” over and over, while my 8 year old called out in a panic, “You’re bleeding, Mom! Your eye is bleeding!”
In an embarrassing example of vanity and ignorance, my immediate concern was that I would have a black eye, because I was hosting a Christmas party at my house the next night. I was relieved that the small cut and bruising could be covered with makeup. What I did not realize was that the impact had caused my retina to detach. Over the next several days my vision gradually worsened until a black curtain had dropped across all but a tiny corner of my field of vision.
In the emergency surgery to repair the detached retina, a gas bubble was inserted into my eye to hold the retina in place. The first few weeks of my recovery required lying on my side at a particular angle 24 hours a day to keep the retina in place. The bubble would gradually shrink over the next two months until it dissolved, but it jostled and moved constantly, leading to an unending feeling of seasickness. I wore a black pirate eye patch to block out the light and relieve the nausea. Even with the eyepatch I was constantly running into walls, my children, kitchen counters, my dog. I couldn’t drive safely, and my parents had to come for several weeks to help with my kids and chauffeur me around. With only one eye working properly, reading and writing were a huge source of frustration and challenge. And so my fantastic plan of writing every week about this journey of applying therapeutic skills and spiritual disciplines to a centered life was derailed.
But God is in the detours, and I met him over the subsequent months in surprising ways.
I had spent months writing bulleted outlines about how I would practice courage by confronting fears (of my own choosing) without avoidance or distraction or numbing, but was instead tossed into a frightening situation I could never have imagined. Courage was required without any time to create a plan of action for this specific scenario.
I expected to learn about rest by setting boundaries and shutting down my phone on Sundays, taking a break from cleaning the house, watching tv or doing laundry. Instead, I was flung headfirst into a full pause of my life. I learned how to rest from a side-lying position on my couch watching the hands of dear friends wrap my children’s Christmas presents.
And so while my centered living experiment didn’t look the way I had planned or imagined it, that’s ok. Since the initial injury I’ve had two additional eye surgeries and lost peripheral vision in the affected eye. But I can see infinitely better than I could last December. It’s hard and it’s good.
Getting derailed is about changing direction. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you’re lost or beyond hope. It is simply a new place. You didn’t expect to be here, but in fact this is where you have landed.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
And so if you find yourself derailed, perhaps it is a chance for you to come awake and catch glimpses of our incognito God. May he give you the grace to look around, take a deep breath and find the grace and strength to live here, regardless of what life (or, in my case, a 3 year old) tosses your way.