Without warning, I would feel a sudden pain inside my belly. It was always a sharp, stabbing pain. After a moment, the pain would vanish as inexplicably as it had arrived. For a couple of years, I endured this terrible sensation over and over.
Because the pain was so unpredictable, I never thought of myself as pain-free. The pain was never gone; it was only lurking. I knew it could ambush me at any time. I tried to fix the problem by changing what was within my control. I restricted myself to a very bland diet. I ate less often. But without knowing the source of my pain, I could only guess at a solution.
In many ways, it would’ve been easier to feel this pain in my elbow, or some clearly identifiable part of my body. “Abdomen” sounds scientifically precise, but it’s just the access panel for a complicated puzzle-box of squishy bits. Was the pain coming from my spleen? My gall bladder? My small intestine? I had no idea. I couldn’t even point to some exact spot on my belly and say, “The pain is always here.
The medical experts were politely mystified. Without ever dismissing my pain, my doctor made it clear that he could discern no reason for it. I felt an unspoken accusation: I was being unreasonable.
I remember hoping that my health would deteriorate enough for some elusive diagnosis to be made at last. In other words, I wanted to see myself as someone who was still waiting. I wanted there to be a next phase, something after the status quo of inexplicable pain.
This experience helped me understand the difference between “waiting” and “enduring.” Neither waiting nor enduring has any power to guarantee a happy ending. But waiting leaves open the possibility that things will change. Although I had no guarantee that change would occur, I found God’s comfort in viewing my experience as “waiting.”
I knew that waiting wouldn’t heal me. A “change in the status quo” could mean something terrible was about to happen. I worried (perhaps foolishly) about the possibility of cancer. But I still took comfort in the reassurance of change. Something would happen. I was waiting.
Something did change. One day, when I was 30 minutes outside of Portland, the pain was so intense that I started screaming inside my car. I turned the radio to full volume, so I wouldn’t have to listen to myself. A few hours later, I was in surgery to remove a kidney stone. All that tinkering with my diet had been wasted effort. So were all the scans and tests of my stomach and intestines. The problem was in between my left kidney and my bladder.
“Kidney stone” is hardly an exotic medical condition. Why was this so hard to diagnose? I thought about being angry. But God reminded me: “You waited, and something happened.” For that, I was grateful.