Do the Next Thing

And the heart does not die when one thinks it should

We smile; there is tea and bread on the table.

“Elegy for N.N.” Czeslaw Milosz (Selected Poems)

For over a year now, my teenage daughter has been going through a complex chronic pain journey that has pummeled our family in myriad ways. My last post referenced this, but when I wrote it, I thought we were close to the end (we were only two months in). 

How to describe what this last year has looked like?

Countless visits to doctors and specialists before she was diagnosed, and since. 

Numerous traumatizing visits to the ER in level-ten pain that ended with “I wish we could do something,” or “I wish we had a Plan B” and being sent home. 

Three weeks in a hospital inpatient pain program, followed by four weeks of all-day therapies. 

Multiple physical and occupational and aquatic therapy visits per week. 

Meds upon meds. 

Electrical stimulation therapy. 

CBD oil. 

Lidocaine patches. 

Multiple joint dislocations (hip, shoulder, knee, ankle, wrist, jaw, finger) every day.

Every variety of joint brace. 

Walkers, wheelchairs, knee scooters.

SO many missed school days.

And now, back into the inpatient program for the next several weeks.

When I was in college, I read many books by Elisabeth Elliot, who became a spiritual mentor to me through her writings. My brain instantly recognized as vital once piece of advice she wrote and filed it away in the appropriate drawer. It was this: Do the next thing. Based on a poem she read somewhere (which was based on an old Saxon legend), this phrase helped to steady her and keep her going when she felt overwhelmed with burdens, with responsibilities, and with fears for the future. And as a single mother, alone with her toddler in the jungle and attempting to minister to the very people who had killed her husband, she had reason to feel overwhelmed.

Her advice has helped keep my head just above water many times. But I’ve never had to put it into practice as often as I have this past year.

From practice, I’m learning to take the next step forward after hovering in the kind of moments that threaten to stop my heart from pain. I now have behind me a little history of doing the next thing right when it seems the most impossible. 

Now, when my daughter cries and tells me she cannot go on one more day—Sometimes the body just shuts down, Mom. Sometimes it’s just too much and it just stops—I hug her and we cry. Then, I pick up her pajamas strewn on the floor and put them away. Or I ask her if she wants pretzels and oranges for a snack. Or I make my monkey face to throw her off and make her roll her eyes. 

After a few “next things,” we are over the impossible mountain, for another hour or two at least. This doesn’t sound like much of a coping mechanism. It’s probably not. But sometimes it’s all that gets me over—remembering that I felt exactly this way a few days ago, or last week, or last year, and now I’m here. I’m still here. She’s still here.

My heart didn’t die when I thought it would. It doesn’t sound like much, but I recognize it as the grace provided, the grace promised.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9