Discomfort and Medals

When I was 31 years old in the hospital in labor with Aliana, I decided I wanted an epidural. I remember calling in the anesthesiologist, and as he was preparing to insert this long needle into me that I opted not to look at, he mentioned that he was surprised I had waited so long to get the epidural.

“Did you know you wanted to get one?” he asked me.

“Yes, I did,” I realized.

“But you waited a long time to get it,” he said, processing out loud. Even though I couldn’t see his face as he was speaking these words, I pictured him looking up at the ceiling, deep in thought, as he said them.

“Were you hoping for a medal?” he then asked, jokingly.

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When I was 8 years old, my mom used to take me shopping with her to the Amish store out in the country. When I was there, I came across a Bible Study lesson for kids. As I read through it, I noticed there was a study plan that came with it. You had to do a series of 12 lessons, and mail each one of them in. By the time you completed the final lesson, you would receive an ambiguous “prize.”

I did all those lessons. I couldn’t wait for my prize. In my mind, I was picturing some kind of gold trophy or medal. I did those lessons quickly and checked the mail every day, eagerly awaiting to receive the next lesson to arrive in our mailbox.

It took several months, but the day finally came when I mailed in my last lesson, and was awaiting my shiny, gold trophy.

I was aghast at what I saw when I opened the final envelope. It simply had a phone number on it that I was instructed to call.

My eight year old brain thought this was either going to be another exciting scavenger hunt, or a severe disappointment.

An elderly lady answered the phone. I felt like I was in a movie and she was going to give me a riddle to find an ancient treasure. But instead she asked me,

“Do you believe Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you want your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” she asked me.

Was this some kind of bizarre joke, I wondered?? Was THIS phone call my prize? My Sunday School teacher was just as informative and way less creepy than this lady. I would have rather spoken with her.

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In April 2006, I was 29 years old, living in Madison, Wisconsin. I woke up in a haze, similar to what one might feel after drinking large quantities of alcohol, only this was not the case for me. I had cried so much the night before, that I was drunk on my own tears. My swollen eyes could barely open. I had slept, but it wasn’t a normal sleep. I finally got up, moving like I was twice my age, and saw I had a missed call from Alma.

I didn’t really know Alma, but she was trying to be my friend. When I called her back, she told me that she and her boyfriend, Alex, were coming over to my house to cook for me, and to get me to eat.

Alma was twenty years older than me. She had been married twice before and had finally found love with Alex. Even though, in my opinion, they seemed to bicker a lot, and Alma was often openly frustrated with Alex’s communication skills. But on this day, they reached out to me, without really knowing me, because they knew I had no one. (This was by choice. I let almost no one in.) They knew if they didn’t come to sit with me, I would be by myself in my own thoughts, going deeper into a black hole.

I stood next to Alma as she cooked homemade chorizo sausage on the stovetop in my kitchen.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. Why would God allow this to happen to me? I can’t handle this. I’ve done so much. I’ve given my entire life to this marriage and supported him to reach his dreams, and–”

Alma cut me off. “M’ijja. You aren’t the first or the last woman to go through this. Women all over the world are waking up, just like you. Their husbands were unfaithful and they just keep going–without their husbands. You’ve got you. And that’s enough. There’s no prize for being good. You are good simply because you are good. And that’s enough. ”

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Now I am 43. Two days ago, I had an interesting conversation with another adult, who ended up telling me a story about a very difficult experience she had with Southwest Airlines. It involved her having to endure numerous travel delays, losing her luggage, and having to ultimately change airlines in order to get home. Most of this was due to the technology at Southwest being down.

This experience had happened several months ago, and yet as she was retelling it, I would have thought it was moments ago, because she was reliving it with such intensity and anger about how that airline had wronged her.

“But it was a technical glitch, right?” I clarified. “Like something they had no control over?”

“Yeah, but you would have thought they would have done more for me! It wasn’t my fault! Like at least give me some additional free flights or bonus miles or something,” she said, with flashes of anger in her eyes.

“Yes,” I said, still trying to understand why she was so angry about something that had happened months ago.

“It would be nice if we got medals and prizes when we showed up and did what we are supposed to do, right?” I said, quickly wishing I could retract it, when I saw the puzzled look on her face.

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Unless we are an Olympian or high school/college athlete, there is no medal or prize for physical pain. And in most cases of humanity, there is no tangible prize for being a good human, wife, mother, etc. And more importantly, doing good in this world doesn’t guarantee that good will come to you.

But what if there are prizes that aren’t tangible?

What if physical discomfort leads to strength?

What if suffering leads us to wisdom?

What if loving someone changes us, even if we don’t get loved back?

What if hard work produces resilience and knowledge, even if we didn’t achieve what we wanted to?

It really struck me how, even as we are adults in this world, we may still struggle with putting forth action, knowing that there may or may not be a reward.

Most of the time, there is no tangible award for enduring emotional discomfort. It doesn’t guarantee that people will be nice to you or encourage you. Nor is there an award for being kind and encouraging.

But I do believe those awards come from WITHIN. If I’m being nice and kind and working hard for something just to get an award, that doesn’t mean I’m nice or kind or an industrious person. All that means is that I was good so that I could receive something. Sometimes being kind has a ripple effect, so to speak. When one person is kind, it causes those around them to want to be kind as well. But sometimes it DOESN’T. Sometimes you are nice, and someone takes advantage of your kindness. Sometimes you work hard, and you fail.

But here’s the thing: you showed up. You did it. And you built resilience within yourself for doing it. We can do hard things. Even when there’s no medal.