Before the Dawn

A few weeks ago, I was at a friend's house listening to the story of her illness, recovery and the Lord's presence and work in both. As she finished telling her tale, she said, "It's a cheesy saying, but it was true for me--'It's always darkest before the dawn.'"

The character of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine both have shared this old adage (which has been around since the 17th century) with the world in new ways it won't soon forget ("Shake It Out," anyone?), but I required my friend's account of her illness before I could embrace the truth of it. Scientifically, the phrase doesn't play out. But it's not about science. It's about perspective.

Imagine being cast into the suffocating dark of the longest night you have known. Imagine the dawn to be one of the deepest longings of your heart. Imagine believing with all your soul that the dawn approaches. Imagine what it feels like when the dawn seems late. Imagine what it feels like when the moon sinks into bed, resting its luminous head behind the horizon as the stars blink out sleepily as if their work is done. Their work is not done! The light is gone and the dawn is late! Your hopes sink with the moon. Your faith fades with the stars. Truly, the hour is the darkest you have known.

Anybody feel that?

Thus was the state of my soul yesterday and this morning when I woke.

I had been doing well. My still-new medication was masking my pain so effectively that I was feeling able, competent. When new allergies to chicken, fish and shellfish developed last week, I took the news and the evidence thereof in stride. "At least I don't hurt," I thought. "I can cope with hunger and the discomfort of an over-stimulated immune system as long as I don't feel pain." I didn't cry. I didn't mourn. I accepted, and moved on. And then there was Sunday.

Over the weekend, humid, oppressively hot Louisiana received the gift of a "cold" front, which I could enjoy freely thanks to Cymbalta, my little miracle drug. The soaring temperatures dipped down into the 60s and 70s. The sun beamed in celebration and the trees applauded Autumn's breezy approach. A lovely prelude to my favorite season beckoned me outdoors. I could not help but comply.

I carried baby and bottle along with me, and reclined in my lounge chair. I pulled up the legs of my yoga pants, rolled up the sleeves of my t-shirt and arranged my limbs just so to receive the full effect of the sun. I basked in its healing rays for only a few moments before my mother-in-law drove up our drive. She had come to grant me a short reprieve from the-girl-who-does-not-sleep so that I might get some rest. We chatted while I shamelessly bathed in sunbeams. She took Sara to her swing. I looked on as my baby grinned happily. For a moment, I was euphoric, watching my girl, drinking in the day, anticipating my much-needed nap. And then the sun, my long-time friend, betrayed me unexpectedly.

Rather than causing my skin to tingle with warmth and happiness, the sun's rays began to sear me as if they were white-hot branding irons. I half-expected to burst into flame. I voiced my alarm to my mother-in-law. "If I'm burning, we need to get Sara out of the sun." You see, I didn't yet understand. But it did not take me long. I came inside to find that my feet were scarlet red and swollen twice their size. I inspected my legs and arms. I had a suspiciously allergic-looking rash spreading. I began to feel a tightness in my chest and an itching in my ears.

"No!" my inner voice cried in distress. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no!"

I had been outside for less than 15 minutes, and what I was experiencing was clearly an allergic reaction to the sun. I took 100 mg of Benadryl, rubbed on some aloe vera gel, which did nothing to alleviate the burn, and sobbed. I was crushed, and I simply could not understand. I had believed that everything that was not a breathing, living being had been taken away from me already. I had believed myself to have been completely stripped down to the core of my soul. And to my surprise, here was something else I had to lose, and the implications of such a loss were severe.

The sun had always been there to help me feel better. It had relieved me from pain, from depression, from grief. I had always romanticized my time in the sun, as if the act of sunbathing itself was poetry. It had always felt like poetry. It didn't take me long to realize that with a sun allergy, I could no longer take my children outdoors without being fully clothed and wearing a hat. Sunscreen was an unlikely option. With my track record, I can only assume that I'm allergic to that as well. My aspirations of taking Micah to the zoo fizzled. My hopes to enjoy a ride on Brandon's new boat sunk. And I had thought I was going to learn to farm . . . . I was spiraling.

I called my mom, crying. Before I hung up, she suggested I do a little research to see if the reaction could have been caused by my drug. This is what I found: 39,138 people reported to have side effects when taking Cymbalta. Among them, 37 people (0.09%) have Photosensitivity Reaction. Of those 37 people, only 5.5% are my age. Most people affected by this reaction are 50 years and older. I also read that while the recommended treatment is to discontinue use of the drug, photosensitivity can remain as a life-long problem.

So here it is--less than 1 in 1,000 people who experience side effects when taking Cymbalta have a photosensitivity reaction. I'm the 1. Not only am I the one, but of that 1 in 1,000, only 1 in 20 are my age. In addition to these fun facts, I read that I can continue to be sensitive to the sun for the rest of my life. Well, crap. Brandon recommended that I purchase a lottery ticket, but that isn't the way my "luck" works. If fortune is my master, then I could have a share in a lottery of 1,000 people with 999 winners, and I would be the one loser.

Fortunately, fortune is not my master.

I did not take my medicine yesterday. With that decision, I made another--I will not seek the assistance of another pharmaceutical drug designed to mask my pain for the duration of my illness. My body seems to reject anything that messes with my brain chemistry. Yesterday, pain from randomly firing nerves, which gives the sensation of being bitten in various places, returned along with some of my carpal tunnel pains. Today, I woke with aching, shooting, burning pains in all four quadrants of my body and the knowledge that I can't seek any relief from the sun, which glows gloriously from my view. One thing is for certain--I will know when I am better.

Broken and bleeding in soul, I went to the one place I can find a spark of hope, no matter how dark the night. I was led to Lamentations 3. Lamentations felt appropriate.

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul,
'Therefore I hope in Him.'
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him
to the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear 
the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
Let him put his mouth in the dust--
There may yet be hope."

From His word in Lamentations, His word in various other places in the Bible I have recently studied, and the conversations I have recently shared with various people, the Lord spoke to me thus--

"My beloved, do not fear the darkness of your night (Psalm 27:1). I AM the Light by which you see light (Psalm 36:9). In your darkness, I AM your Morning, and every morning when you wake, you will receive fresh mercies to meet the challenges of the day. No matter how bad things seem, your circumstances will not consume you. I AM faithful. I have proven myself faithful. Feed on my faithfulness (Psalm 37:3). I AM your Portion, the real food you need. Wait on me. Commit your way to me. I will act. (Psalm 37:5). Wait when all seems lost. Wait for my timing. I AM never late. Healing is not your hope. Remember, I AM your Hope, your Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3). Your were saved for a hope greater than physical healing. You were saved in the hope of full redemption for your body (Romans 8:23). Everything you have lost, I will restore to you one-thousand fold, so do not worry about the apparent misfortune of being one "loser" in the midst of 1,000 "winners." Remember, hope that is seen is not hope. Why would you still hope for what you can see (Romans 8:24-25)? Persevere, my love. Wait for me. Wait. Be still before me. Cry, but do not clamor. Weep, but do not fret (Psalm 37:7-8). Remember, I AM near to the broken heart, the dependent soul (Psalm 34:18). Your pain makes you dependent. It draws you near to me. I AM faithful. I will draw near to you (James 4:8). Your pain brings my nearness. Your pain is your good (Lamentations 3:25). It is good to take upon my yoke in your youth (Lamentations 3:27). Learn from me. Submit to me. Trust me. My yoke is easy. Slip it on. My burden is light. I will lead, only follow. There is rest in submission to me (Matthew 11:28-20). Even in the darkest night, there is hope. The dawn is coming, my dear. You will be well. Heed your mother's words--'Brace yourself for a two year recovery.' I am willing to heal you, Darling, but not as I healed the deaf man (Mark 1:40-44), for I intend that your testimony will be different in character from that of the deaf man, but no less powerful. Your healing will be difficult and drawn out. He received the sweeping brush of the Painter. You are destined for the shaping pressure and fiery oven of the Potter. Your dawn is not as nigh as you would have it. You will want to give up. Wait. I will strengthen your heart (Psalm 27:14). I will feed you from the abundance of my house. As you sit in the midst of sorrow, you will sip the coming joy (Psalm 36:8). Why is your soul cast down, My Sweet? Why are you disquieted? (Psalm 42:5) Let me quiet you with my love, for it is vaster than you can fathom (Zephaniah 3:17). Press on. Press on because I have made you My Own (Philippians 3:12). Press on, and hope in me. I will help you with my Presence (Psalm 42:5). Value Me more than health. Treasure Me above wealth. Make Me your God, and not your belly (Philippians 3:19). Desire the comfort of your soul above the comfort of your body. Lay down your career, and I will give you great and glorious work which I have prepared for you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). Lay down your imagined rights, and you shall gain true rights to the Kingdom. Lay down your preferences, and I will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). Give up fun, and I will give you pleasure. Give up leisure, and I will give you rest. Surrender your dreams, and I will give you purpose. Die to everything you are, and I will transform your lowly, sickly little body, and conform it to My glorious body (Philippians 3:21). In whatever circumstances I allot to you, find your contentment in Me. You can do all things in my strength (Philippians 4:11-12). Above all, remember that your hope is not in the dawn, but in the Bright and Morning Star, whom outshines the sun and gives light to the whole world (Revelation 22:16). I AM your Hope! And I will bring you into a light more brilliant and glorious than any dawn you can imagine!"

The darkness yet gathers, heaping black against black. Life is not getting easier as I would wish. There is no faint glimmer of hope on the horizon, yet Hope is in my heart. For my hope is not in the dawn, and being assured of that brings a beauty to even the darkest hour of my night. But the dawn is coming, and I will give such a shout that the clouds themselves will flee when it finally arrives.