This post for Endearing Pain is off the general path for Dining With Donald. However, I knew Colleen years ago when I attended Church of the Way, and I think her story is worth a read. Check out her book launch on May 2, more info at the bottom of post.
“Pain is Universal.” That is the first quote on the back cover of Endearing Pain: Life Lessons from MS Afflictions,” Written by Winnipeg author and former teacher, Colleen Peters. Just over a decade ago Peters discovered she was living with Progressive Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (PRMS). PRMS is a particularly nasty and unrelenting strain of MS.
Over the last 10-12 years, the basic activities of life, from walking to cooking and many in between have become battles with pain. Slowly but relentlessly, Peters is losing the ability to complete these tasks. Independence continues to give way to dependence, and physical activity to inactivity.
All this with excruciating pain which only increases over time. Plus, living with a disease that most people don’t understand, and trying to find a way to explain her life to the people she meets.
The book is written as a series of letters. The letters started as an attempt to answer the question, “how are you doing.” As Peters explains in the opening chapter, that question is often difficult to answer. The letters that form this book are her attempts to provide answers.
These letters are sporadic in their frequency. This helps the reader to remember the capricious nature of PRMS. It also illustrates that PRMS is not a disease that Peters has control over. At the same time, the content of the letters serves to let the reader know that Peters has not let the disease have control over her.
Reading the book I find myself wondering how any one person can bear such pain. The answer it seems lies in Peters faith. This is not a faith that denies pain. Nor does it see pain as punishment. “Pain is universal,” as has already been stated.
The Heart of Endearing Pain
At heart this book is about healing. Peters still lives with MS. Her body is still deteriorating. However, as she shares her story of living with PRMS you can’t help but notice the many ways healing has occurred in her life.
Since pain is universal it is part of the journey of life. Pain becomes endearing pain as it is transformed throughout one’s life. It is transformed by encounters with many people who become companions on the journey.
For Peters this companionship is found in writers such as C.S. Lewis, Frederick Beuchner, Dr. Paul Brand, and many others. In particular the words of Julian of Norwich whose words “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” carol throughout the book serving as a touchstone for Peters to return to time and again.
Then there is the companionship of family and friends. Her husband Len and her children, Jackson, Nicholas, Renée, and Victoria lend support that is physical, emotional and spiritual.
Finally, and most deeply, there is the companionship of Jesus. It is the companionship of the one who took pain and suffering and transformed it through his suffering, death and resurrection who is Peters unfailing companionship. This does not mean it is an easy companionship.
Peters does not portray herself in any way as a long-suffering, perfected saint. Knowing her own pain, she knows how often if can rule her. Yet through her pain she has come to know the truth of the words of Deuteronomy.
THE eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Deuteronomy 33. 27.
In the Book of Common Prayer these words are part of the Funeral liturgy, but we need to remember that they are words meant for the living.
Learning from Endearing Pain
One of the beauties of the book is the way in which Peters gently and lovingly lifts the curtain on what it is like to live with a largely invisible disability. People, such as Peters, who live with invisible disabilities often have to live not only with the physical pain of the disease but often with emotional pain inflicted by,(mostly) well-meaning but ill-informed individuals commenting on that pain.
Peters show grace and patience while explaining how such interactions can bring additional pain to the pain she already daily carries. She also allows the reader to see how simple, social gestures such as a handshake, while a sign of caring, can be a source of pain for her.
On May 2nd, 2016 McNally Robinson’s Booksellers will be holding a Book Launch for Endearing Pain: Life Lessons from MS Afflictions. I hope as many people as possible can attend this event. If not, I really encourage you to purchase this book. You can order it online from McNally Robinson. If you are the type of person who likes to make gifts of books to your priest, pastor, or church library, this is definitely a book to give them.