The Clincher

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving."
But the fighter still remains...

-Simon and Garfunkel

I have a tendency to clinch.  I am a natural fighter.  I am immediately, simultaneously on defense and on the offense.  I will battle you at the slightest provocation.  I like to think I have softened a bit over the years, but...

I have, for example, COMPLETELY destroyed my jaw.  It is an embarrassing fact that every time - every single time - I chew, my jaw makes an audible popping sound.  When feeling my jaw muscles, my dentist expressed shock.  "Now those are some of THE STRONGEST jaw muscles I have ever encountered."  I am an anomaly.  I admit I am a tad ashamed.  I will hesitate to eat around you.  And sometimes, quite often really, I even annoy myself.

Sometimes, I catch myself on defense against the wrong enemy.  And Matt is always adamant to remind me that he is not, in fact, the enemy.  "Oh...right.  Simmer down, now.  Sorry, Matt, tickle tickle tickle." (Large, exaggeratedly ornery, cheesy smile).

It is my natural instinct to compete.  Once, early in our marriage, I heard someone trying to break into the back door of our small home.  I immediately threw myself against the door with all my might, attempting to hold back the enemy.  Matt fled to the back room.

From my temporary perspective, it seemed rather pathetic.  From his, shockingly ridiculous.

After a minute or two, I finally realized my neighbor was knocking.  When Matt came back fully clothed, I let him answer the door.  I went to the back room.  My muscles ached.  We won't discuss my pride.

I always know in the morning, when I've had a particularly anxious night.  Did you know there are 43 muscles in the human face?  I'm pretty sure I have offended every one.  I ward off pain, whether it is of the mind or body, by bearing down.  Tensing up.  Bracing myself for the fight.

Here is a prime example: I have had four babies.  The first pregnancy and delivery were ideal.  I mean, 48 hours of labor was certainly not fun, but in the retrospect of the next three...  I had no idea what labor pains could become when they first started, but I made my way VERY SLOWLY and with medical support from an eternal 1.5 to a 5 cm dilation, so I could (FINALLY!) have an epidural.  I slept through the "transition" stage, which I would later learn, rather vividly, is the most painful aspect of birthing a child.

My second, in retrospect, was rather uneventful.  I knew, instinctively, early on, she would be born on Easter.  She took 21 hours, and I was dilated at 1.5 cm for something like 5 years.  (I dismissed the doctor to go to his Easter service and promised him baby would still be inside when he returned.  #self-awareness). The worst part of the experience (other than the fact that Matt refused to let me watch the weird "music with Bible verses" show I found so captivating)  was when I began to feel pain, despite my epidural.  I started crying to Matt when the nurse would leave the room, "I want to go home.  I just want to go home."  When she finally caught me sobbing, she realized it was go-time.  Ironically, my largest baby (8 lb 4 oz!) is now referred to as "the rail."

Of course, the third was as noticeable and memorable as his personality has become.  My endearing obstetrician scheduled a week early induction.  My water broke the day before, and I stuck with my lucky number (1.5) for about another 5 years.  I was on a natural kick.  I'd thought it would be great to have this one at home, maybe with a midwife.  Matt, reasonably, declined my suggestion, citing - I'm not "a good candidate" for home birth.  I agreed as I entered transition, rather vocally.

I had decided natural was for the birds, and I wanted an epidural, after all.  The fearfully, sympathetic look on the nurse's face told me I might as well have stayed home.  Who the (bad word) has ever heard of low platelets anyway?!!  Anomaly.  No epidural for me.

I could sense the anxious discomfort of everyone in the room, as I "hoooo'd" and "haaaaa'd" at the top of my lungs (I can be quite loud, actually), through transition, for as long as I could exhale.  When the nurses left the room, I confessed to Matt, "If I'm going down, I'm taking this whole (bad word) hospital down with me."  And, for that reason alone, I was glad I'd come.  24 hours after the start, we had a baby who would live up to the intensity of his entry (affectionately referred to as my mini-me).

By the time I viewed the precious pink lines that would become our fourth child, I was DETERMINED to kick labor and delivery in the (bad word).  I went into it expecting no epidural.  I read every book under the sun about natural labor, I did special (scandalous!) "exercises," and I had a plan: DO NOT CLINCH!  Let the pain do it's job.  Do not resist.  Focus your mind on keeping your body relaxed.  (Every now and then, I can be quite smart.)

I had good opportunity to practice before labor.  As it turns out, those super intense episodes of acid reflux were actually gall bladder attacks...who the (bad word) is responsible for this torturous existence?!! (#perspective)...but I wouldn't find that out until after I held my little joy in my arms.  I did succeed in my goal.  I kicked 1.5 in the face, showing up to the hospital at a 5 AND holding my baby in my arms only 5 hours later.  Take that b's!  (Sometimes, in my precious brain, the enemy is theoretical.)

I feel like I've had more than my fair share of pain in life.  And, probably, I'm just being a baby.  But I am not a wimp.  What about that time I lost my toenail?  I was catching for Dillon's team, and the ball came off the machine or the bat (I don't remember which) and it hit my toe, and I stood up and walked it off.  Coach was so happy (we are competitive like that), and he said, "Ooooooh, hurts, don't it?!"

And I shot a battle glare back and said, "I'm not gonna tell YOU that." And I got right back down and caught the rest of the practice.  I limped for 3 days and watched my toe turn purple and swell up and...just nasty.  I lost the toe nail, and it still isn't the same.  But I can assure you that coach NEVER saw me wince.

And let's don't even talk about the pancreatitis I endured 2 weeks after Evan was born (my "response" to gall bladder removal).  That was, hands down, more horrible than the labor without an epidural, which was still so fresh in my mind, but I still can't go there, yet.  The memory is too painful to touch.

I have experienced pain, emotionally and physically.  I experience pain every day.  (I would be willing to bet you do, too.)  There are a few "thorns in my side" that will ALWAYS remain.

And here it is...the clincher.  When I fight or bear down in my pain - when I try to hold back or hold it in - I, effectively, lengthen my own suffering.  (It doesn't, by the way, work to ignore it, either.  Especially not emotional pain.  It always works itself out at some point and in some way, usually a nasty way!  Better to deal with it sooner than later, because infection only gets nastier with time.)

When I focus - when I breathe through the pain and don't tense up and bite back - amazing things happen, like watermelons growing up out of compost.  Do you know what compost is made of?  Crap.  Literally poop.  Good things can actually grow up out of the crap of life, if we use the right strategies.  (Like prayer and trust and really good supports).  That is, in sum my analogy for Romans 8:28, and that is the real clincher, my baffling life-lesson learned.

Pain has taught me to face it head on.  For myself.  And pain has taught me to not look away.  For others. Because the FIRST thing someone in pain needs is for someone brave to sit through it with her, and the LAST thing that someone needs is someone who is too afraid to hold her hand (or some Pharasaical, self-righteous judge who stands on the sidelines shouting her opinions).  People in pain need someone brave and kind.

I get to be that person now, and I am scared, because sometimes the hurt is so residual that it pours out all over me, combines with my own pain and invades my soul.  Who would willingly face that?!  But I have to.  I know how to survive it, so I have to be that person who is brave, because I know what it feels like to ache...every day.

But you know what?  Here is another clincher...being brave doesn't mean you aren't afraid. Being brave is hanging in there and facing it, despite your fear.  Right?  And I can do that.  I can choose to hang in there and be brave.  Because I know more about pain than "just surviving" it.  I know the rewards that come after.  I just need to remember not to clinch.