With each step, icy shards of pain shoot through my knees and up my spine. My two-year-old Cecily runs ahead of me into the house, then trots back with the TV remote. “Watch Dora?”
Guilt sits heavy in my chest. Her brother started kindergarten only two weeks ago and she’s already settled into this routine after dropping him off. It’s too much screen time. But today the pain is too much for my medicine to alleviate. I don’t have energy to do more than lie down.
“Okay.” I trudge after Cecily and switch on the show.
As I collapse on the couch, our beagle, Link, walks over and nudges my hand. “¿Te duele?” he asks.
I scratch under his chin. “Sí.” Yes, it hurts.
“Tomorrow will be better,” he says in Spanish.
I stifle a sigh. I’ve told him that there is no cure for fibromyalgia, but he keeps saying that. I wonder… I was once offered any gift in exchange for my ability to speak to animals. I chose to keep that ability, but to speak in Spanish instead of English to help with my mission in Chile.
“Would you be sad,” I ask Link in Spanish, “if I couldn’t talk to you anymore, but was cured?”
Link looks up at me. “I would be happy if you’re not in pain anymore.”
I can’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes. “Buen chico.”
I just need to find the bird that made the offer again.
The bird had been a black-chinned siskin, native to Chile and Argentina, and likely is no longer alive. I don’t have the money to travel to Chile, but he had come while I was immersed in God’s work. Maybe that will bring him again.
However, the fibromyalgia pain keeps me awake at night. Minutes of conference talks and columns of scripture disappear in the fog of sleep deprivation. I want to serve others, but I can barely grit through my own most necessary chores.
I go outside every day during Cecily’s nap to pray, but often find myself blearily watching Link sniff around the abandoned garden box before remembering my purpose. Later, he’ll update me on the rabbits and deer that wander through our third-acre yard.
Today, as I kneel, a voice speaks, “Hola, Liz.” A black-chinned siskin sits on the branch of a fir tree, bright yellow against the green. “You’ve been looking for me,” he says.
I struggle to my feet. “Sí, I’m ready to exchange my gift.”
“You have already completed your exchange.”
I blink at him. “That doesn’t count. I only asked to change the language.”
“You don’t make the rules.”
I ball my fists, and my knuckles flare with pain. “I need to be healed. Tell me what I must do to be healed.”
“There is nothing to do. It is not your Father’s will.”
My breath comes short, like I’ve been punched in the gut. “That can’t be.” What about all the miracle stories I’ve heard? Why did they get to be healed but not me? “Listen, there’s so much more I could do if I wasn’t in pain. I’m not making memories with my family because I don’t have the strength to get off the couch. I don’t have the energy to cook a meal more complicated than macaroni and cheese. I can’t help my friends when they need someone to watch their kids.” Tears well in my eyes. So many dreams I’ve set aside, not realizing they were dreams until they were beyond my reach.
The siskin’s voice softens. “You’re doing enough.”
I shake my head. My husband deserves a full partner, my kids an able mother.
“Your burden is not easy, but you have the wisdom to manage it.”
Really? I’m barely hanging on day to day.
“I must go now.”
“Wait.” There has to be something I can do to change his mind.
“Take care of yourself. Chao.” The siskin launches into the air and disappears into the clouds.
I sink to my knees. My one chance for a cure, and now it’s gone. I blink out a tear as a sob rises in my throat. A part of my mind registers that Link is barking, has been barking for a while, but I don’t hear what he is saying. All I can do is cry.
A tiny paw rests on my knee. I open my eyes a slit. A gray rabbit sits on hind legs, one paw on my knee as its nose twitches towards my face. I stifle my sobs to not scare it. What is it doing here?
A squirrel runs up next to the rabbit. Wings flutter as dark eyed juncos, song sparrows, and American crows settle on the branches. A doe steps out of the foliage. Link follows, tongue happily lolling out, but none of the animals notice he’s there.
They surround me like I’m a Disney princess instead of a broken mother. They speak, voices overlapping. “Esto es difícil.” “You’re not alone.” “You don’t have to do more than you are able.” “Puedes soportar esto.”
I can’t hold back the tears any longer. I want to wrap all my new friends in a hug, but I dare not move. “Gracias,” I manage to whisper.
Cecily’s voice babbles from the baby monitor. With that, the spell breaks. The animals scatter into the woods, except for the rabbit on my knee. “We’re rooting for you,” it says.
Link runs up. “Truce is over. Time to go!”
The rabbit gives me one last look, then scampers away with the rest.
I pet Link’s shoulders. “Did you bring them all here?”
Link’s tail wags. “Did I do good?”
“Sí, it’s just what I needed.” My joints stab as I stand up, but my heart is lighter. It wasn’t the miracle I wanted, but I can endure another day.