I’m not unfamiliar with the general decay of the human body. My dad was a priest and a hospice chaplain, and my family didn’t shy away from having elderly or sick relatives stay with us as they reached the end of their lives. I was born with only two grandparents, my mother’s parents having died when she was a girl. I was named for an aunt who died about a month before I was born. She died in the church parking lot after volunteering there one morning. By the time I was a teenager, I was on a first-name basis with all of the area hospice nurses and funeral directors because of my dad’s vocation. I learned how to drive on the country roads of Wisconsin, chauffeuring my dad to nursing homes and skilled care facilities around the small town where I grew up, and I sat in the overheated lobby listening to the very loud television and the even louder residents while he brought communion and comfort to people whose bodies weren’t what they used to be. Strains of the old hymn morbidly (but comfortingly) echo in my head when I think about those trips through the country.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

In turn, this hymn brings to my mind the scene from Steel Magnolias when the congregation sings it in church. (“I can report that the Sherwood Florist delivery truck stops by her house at least twice a week.”)

Back when I was driving my dad around to old folks’ homes in the country, I didn’t even have any delusions about the infallibility of my own young body. At the age of 8, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a usually benign curvature of the spine which sent me into back braces and awkward gym teacher conversations for the next ten years. I had a bad back, the quintessential old person ailment, before I reached middle school.

And so, I shouldn’t have been surprised when at the tender age of 25, I found myself in a urologist’s office after a battery of invasive tests, surrounded by dark faux-wood paneling and golf magazines, hearing the words, “Do you want to know something interesting about your body?”

No. No, I did not want to learn something interesting about my body. I was full up on interesting. The curvy spine seemed to be enough “interesting” to fill up at least a few decades.

It turns out, the something “interesting” is that I have a benign condition that affects my kidneys. I have to go see a urologist every few years and explain it on every form at every new doctor’s office that I have this thing that makes kidney tests have weird results. It’s not actually all that interesting, despite the nurse’s somewhat misleading prelude. It’s boring, and I’m grateful for that. Boring is generally good in the medical world. But it still made me feel old. Twenty-five-year-olds are supposed to still be a little bit young and reckless, and here I was with my very own urologist. Instead of asking me if I thought I might be pregnant, the doctor’s office staff asked me if I’d had the shingles vaccine that year. No, I wanted to tell them. No, I haven’t, and I don’t know what the price of gold’s been doing lately, either, because CAN’T YOU SEE HOW YOUNG I AM?

At the same time, I was being inundated with messages that I should look even younger. Botox ads from the ophthalmologist, teeth whitening offers from the dentist … the whole medical world was telling me that I should want to look younger than my 25-year-old self. Let me be clear: I was 25. TWENTY-FIVE. It seemed a bit premature to be trying to reverse the clock on a face that had practically just entered the world.

Even more insulting, at least in my mind, was that I hadn’t *done* anything to bring on all of these “interesting” conditions. After watching alcohol, tobacco, and firearms wreck the bodies of my aging family and neighbors, I was rudely awakened to the fact that even clean, boring living couldn’t save me from time, gravity, and humanity.

There was a time when my parents would sit on my bed on the night before they would drive me to appointments with my orthopedist to discuss my scoliosis. Four times a year, the doctor would x-ray me, measure me, and send me home in an uncomfortable back brace. And on the nights before those four times a year, my parents would pray, fervently, for healing. I bargained with God in the classical preteen girl way on the four-hour drive to the orthopedist’s office. “Dear God, if you straighten my spine before we get there, I will invite the history teacher to church, and he’ll see You and be less obnoxious to the Christians in class, maybe, please God.”

My spine remained stubbornly crooked. I never invited the history teacher to church, and he was still kind of a jerk to everybody, not just the Christians.

I never needed surgery, so there’s that. And I carried two babies (one of them giant) to term, gave birth to them, and carried them around without any real repercussions to my spine or to my kidneys. So, that’s something. That might be all the miracle I need.

I think, sometimes, about what would have happened if my parents’ prayers had “worked” in some concrete, magical spine-straightening way. What if I woke up two inches taller, instead of in my same old scrunched-up torso? What if angels sang and light shone down, and I never had to go back to the orthopedist’s office again?

I probably would have been obnoxiously smug about it, is probably what would have happened. At the tender age of twelve, I probably would have decided that my goodness and my prayers and my faith had healed me. I know people who collect stories of these miracle healings, where people wake up without cancer, or with a straight spine, or with vision when they once had been blind. I often wondered (and if I’m being honest, I still wonder sometimes) what was defective about my faith that didn’t make straight the crooked highway of my spine. Pair this with my general grouchy attitude toward … everything, and I start to sound like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes: “What is crooked cannot be made straight.”

If even clean, boring living couldn’t save me from the human condition of illness and decay and crookedness, what made me think that anything I could do would fix it?

Eventually, even if my spine had been straightened, life on earth would catch up with me, as it does with everybody. If it weren’t scoliosis or a kidney abnormality, it would be toenail fungus or bad hair or addiction or cancer. And I could still get all of those things, and then some. There is no amount of righteousness that can save me from the human condition. I can pay my taxes on time and take out the recycling on the correct day and floss and exercise and even pray in the most fervent way possible, and my humanity is still going to be there. And I’ve learned, through time, that God doesn’t want to bargain with me. (The feeling, by the way, is mutual. So there.) Those moments of healing that people see or feel may just be fleeting glimpses of His Kingdom Come, and not an exchange for services rendered. The exchange has already been made, on a cross, by the One who became human to save the rest of us from our own human weakness.

As Julian of Norwich heard in her vision of Jesus, “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” That always makes me think of the line in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.” Our end, as I understand it, might not be the healing of our earthly bodies, but the healing we see might be one of those fleeting glimpses of a different end.

Jürgen Moltmann wrote in Ethics of Hope:

The incarnation of God has really already given us a counter image to the modern ‘human being as machine’ and ‘performance’ and ‘beauty.’ God became human so that we might turn from being proud and unhappy gods into true human beings, human beings who can accept their youth and their age, and assent to the transitoriness of their bodies; human beings who know that life is more than performance, and that it is love which makes human beings beautiful.

That is the Good News that my dad was bringing to all of those nursing home patients, and the Good News that I think we all need to hear, broken and unhealed and crooked alike.