How can one heart, sanctified by purity, oscillate between two such opposing extremes; on the one end bitterness, and the other, gratitude. How can the same soul, which awakes with thanksgiving at the sound of seagulls calling to one another in the misty morning hours, also lie down with enmity toward those who soar through life without second thought to limitations or constraints. Without second thought to the little things throughout the day that are so easily taken for granted. The things which those of us bound by the chains of our own bodies long to have the freedom to do once again. The things our sickness so unforgivingly snatched away. Of how deeply we pine for the simple things of life. To plan a lunch date without fear of whether we will be stricken by pain. To make a commitment without considering how it may interrupt or affect our tedious and time-consuming treatment. To jump with joy in response to a victory, an exciting report, or even just because we feel like showing our delight. And on to the bigger little things, such as the ability to throw on a pair of sneakers and run with no goal or end in mind, or to hike up a mountain or even a sizeable hill, to swim in the sea, to dance at a wedding, to attend an exercise class, or any number of physical things that should characterize the years of youth and remain throughout decades to come.

These things, however, I have come to learn are reserved for the healthy, those who are not acquainted with the seclusion of sickness. So with everything I once loved and valued stripped away–my health, my active pursuits, my future career goals, even some of my friends–what remains?

Through much struggle, through much darkness, through much despair, and through much pain, I have learned the answer to this question…so much.

So much remains even in the midst of so much loss. The sound of those seagulls I spoke of earlier, once drowned out by the ringing of my alarm to remind me to rise for those masochistic early morning workouts. The howls of coyotes soothing me to sleep at an hour when I previously may have still been busy tackling the lists of the day. The reflective moments to sit back and reminisce on all that I have thus achieved versus the constant nagging to accomplish more and more. The satisfaction and pleasure of a good book on a rainy afternoon, or the hours spent getting lost in the local library perusing titles that catch my eye. The conversation started with a stranger I may have been too busy to engage with or even notice before. The laughter that arises in the presence of a good friend or a story listened to with marked intent. The fluttering of birds from tree to ground and back again, the intricacies of their interactions with one another I observe while catching my breath on a walk, all that I have prior missed because I was too busy getting from point A to point B. Even a buck sharpening his antlers on a tree, such a unique sighting; the ease at which the doe and her fawn pass me by, as if they can feel my newfound ease and harmony with the world around me. An overarching cessation of constant striving for which was characteristic of my being. My relinquishment of struggling against that which I cannot control. My surrender of that which I cannot regain by my own power.

There is so much beauty and goodness in the world. There is so much I have missed prior to this year and half of sickness, prior to the pain which has forced me to slow. There is so much I have passed by without a second glance. This beauty in life, it shouts to me now, and I sometimes can’t quiet the internal chatterings of frustration with so many others who appear to overlook it. Sometimes I can’t help but experience feelings of bitterness toward those appearing to take life for granted as if it was owed to them. As if we all were on equal playing fields, with the same opportunities and the same level of potential. As if good health was an entitlement instead of a privilege. Without recognition of this incredible gift and blessing.

It’s so hard at times. So hard to live in a body which doesn’t look sick. So hard to live amongst so many who have no comprehension or understanding of how physical suffering feels and affects all aspects of life. Amongst a society who is constantly trying to maintain a state of being more than ok. With no realization of how hard it is to suffer loss but still have to live as if all will be well. As if for every problem there is always a straightforward solution.

And though that is not the case in many circumstances, such as mine, I do live forward believing that one day I will be cured. I believe this because of what has been promised through the words which I linger over and savor when I open my Bible each day. I do believe that someday all will be well. I do believe that one day healing will come. But I am still here, today. I still have many mornings of pain to wake to and many faces that won’t see just how much I hurt under the smile I wear. But will I allow this reality to make me bitter, to turn me hard? Or will I right myself when I am found in the wrong attitude and spirit turned awry? Will I respond to their ignorance in thanksgiving toward my awareness, or will I beat a dead horse in resentment of their not knowing.

I wake and my heart beats. I wake and my heart can cave in on the hurt, the anger, the hardness, the temptation to envy, or it can open up in unconditional love, in acceptance, in patience, in thankfulness, in surrender.

I wake and I choose life. I choose that which will enliven my spirit as well as my soul. I choose to fight against that which I can and I should; the struggle to live even when there is loss, to love even when understanding lacks, to listen when the birds chirp and usher in the day, to hear even when the sirens of the world try to drown out the voice of Truth. And after I have done all that I can in my own strength, to surrender the rest to the God who holds the scales of this life in His mighty hands.

To do all of this in the gratitude that I can, because even a life of loss is one that can be beautifully lived. And though I may stumble at times, that is just what I intend to do. To reach into the ashes of the things which I have lost and pull out the beauty of what remains. Because only when everything else in life has been sifted through will you see the sparkle of gold.