“The Promised Land always lies on
the other side of a wilderness.”
Things were not going well for her. Her husband’s job was at risk. Her boss kept piling work on her: someone was let go and the rest of the staff was expected to work harder. Her autoimmune disease had flared. Every day she had to deal with a fever, or fatigue, or pains that started anywhere and moved throughout her body. Or all of the above. And she had a teenaged daughter.
She brought her child with her for one appointment. For many reasons I usually do not think that this is a good idea. Some day I will devote a whole blog to this topic. But back to her. She limped into the exam room. She sat across from me and my keyboard. She looked tired; almost beaten. She looked toward the floor before she raised her eyes.
Her daughter sat in the chair that I kept by the door. Looking very much like a young woman her age: strong; slender; her body caught in between childhood and elegance. Her face buried into her smart phone. She did not acknowledge my presence.
I stood up, walked toward her, and extended my right hand to introduce myself. She looked shocked. As if it was unusual for an adult to engage her. She gave me a limp hand and immediately dove back into her phone. I remained standing in front of her.
Am I that ugly?
A look of bewilderment. But she did look me in the eye.
I smiled. Maybe a faint trace; a bit of a break in her lips. I sat back down.
I finished taking the history that my nurse had obtained. I examined my very sad, very tired, very concerned patient. I sat down.
You have a disease flare. These are common when the weather changes, or if you’ve had a sinus infection recently, or when you’re under stress. Or all of the above.
She smiled. Obviously all of the above.
I explained that all of this was temporary. That for sure we could handle her condition. Things would be OK.
She did not appear convinced.
I understand how she feels. Maybe her illness will improve, but her ability to pay the mortgage still hangs by a thread, and her boss, God knows the stresses he faces, will not be any easier on her. And her precious child is being a teenager.
I turned toward her daughter. First I waved my hand until she forced her gaze away from her phone. Then I spoke to her.
Do you do well in school?
She nodded. Gazed down again.
“Better than well,” her mom said.
Have you been in trouble?
Daughter nods a brief “no;” mom does the same much more emphatically.
I turned to mom.
So she’s a good kid.
Mom nodded again.
“It’s just that there are so many days when she could use some extra help and she complains about her chores, and other days when it would be nice if she weren’t so demanding, and she could be more sympathetic when I hurt…”
But she’s a good kid.
I said this with emphasis.
“A great kid,” mom said.
I turned to her daughter again.
Put down the phone.
In a very stern tone. She complied. I got a look: half annoyance; half bewilderment; a trace of concern.
I explained that her mom was ill. I told her that there was nothing to worry about, and that I could easily handle the sickness part. I said that this is not really what bothered mom the most.
She’s worried about her job, and dad’s job, and she works too hard, and of course she knows how mean the world is and how much of a target her little girl is to so many people with bad intentions.
I gave her a brief talk on teen pregnancy. The most likely predictor of poverty in the future. I lectured about keeping responsible friends, and ditching the troublemakers. About being a leader; someone that the teachers can always count on.
I was not sure that I was getting through.
When I was a kid my mom used to have a point system for me to get into Heaven.
I noticed some interest.
Every time that I did something nice; something that I was not supposed to do, she would tell me that I had earned points to get into Heaven.
Now she was looking at me.
To my chagrin, she would never tell me how many points I had earned, and how close I was to reaching the total needed.
She smiled. Now I had her.
You don’t get points when you do what you are supposed to. That is easy. That involves little effort.
I explained to her that good grades and lack of familiarity with the inside of the principal’s office did not earn her anything. That she needed to take on extra chores at this time. Avoid fights with siblings even when provoked. That she should go out of her way to help a fellow student understand a tough point in class. That she had to be patient even when mom was not.
No points for the easy stuff. The essence of life. You show up for work on time, and you do what you are expected to do. You get paid, but you get no points. Zilch. If you want to get to Heaven you have to do the hard stuff, the things that take a lot of effort and pull you way out of your comfort zone. The ones that you do not get paid for; the ones that offer no chance whatsoever of any reward.
And you will never know when you have enough. In fact, the moment that you ask for your tally, you lose all the points that you have built up. You have to start all over again.
My patient’s daughter smiled. She hugged her mom on the way out of the exam room.
The whole idea behind this system is that when all of us live in this way we will not care about making that trip to Heaven. There will not be any more scorekeeping. No more points. We will already be there.