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A Miracle Observed: A Conclusion

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The following is the last in a ten-part series I have been writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

As the semester winds down, I’m beginning to realize how many things are coming to a close. This is a time in my life that has been filled with many conclusions and finales, some exciting, some saddening, others just things that are. The end of this series falls into the last category. I won’t say that I’m happy it’s over, but I also won’t say that I’ll miss writing about this each week. This has not been an easy series to write, but it has been good.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m absolutely glad that I wrote this series. God used it to get me to reflect openly about what I was thinking, feeling and learning. He used it to open up many helpful conversations with people who might not have known what I was thinking otherwise.

Through this series I’ve been reminded of the power and beauty to be found in the “mundane” interactions and experiences of my everyday life, of the necessity of enjoying the small moments that can easily be forgotten, of empathizing with those around me and their struggles, of God’s control and His power over situations in which I am powerless and how He works all things together for His glory, no matter how the circumstances appear to me.

In some ways it’s a relief to be here. I have been very ready to be finished with this series for some time now. On one hand, it has been very good to reflect and think about how this situation has changed me and brought me to where I am today. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for moving on from a situation and not constantly searching out something new to understand.

Learning when to move on is part of life, and I firmly believe that is what God is showing me now. This is not to say that I can’t and won’t learn more from this situation as time moves along, just that this period of regular reflection and writing about this time has come to a close.

Thank you so much for your thoughts, comments and prayers throughout this time. It has truly meant a lot to me to hear from friends that they are thinking and praying for my family and me. If you’d like to discuss any of my previous posts or the series as a whole, I’d love to talk with you. The main reason for this series was for my own critical reflection and growth, and part of that comes as a result of conversation and discussion with others. So if you want to, let’s talk!

I’d appreciate prayers for a few things:

-For my mom’s continued recovery. She has made so much progress and that recovery is continuing today. Praise God for that progress and continue to ask that He would give her even more.

-For that ability to move on and accept what God has decreed for our family, not just for me, but for all of us. He knows best, but it’s not always easy to remember that.

-That I would never forget the miracle God did in my mom’s life. There are certain things from this experience that I need to remember constantly. This is one. God is powerful, He healed my mom and is still doing so today. Only by His miracle-working power was this all possible. What a testimony!

-Lastly (or firstly, really): That God would continue to be glorified through this experience.

I hope that these musings have been both as encouraging and helpful to you as they have been to me. God has taught me so much through these posts, but it’s time now to conclude this series. Dear reader, thank you for your time. May you never forget the miracles God has done in your life.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Miracle

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The following is the ninth in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

I’ve said before in this series that there is no doubt in my mind that God has done a miracle in my Mom’s life. It’s amazing to me to see that power so directly displayed. This sort of thing leaves you shocked, speechless, filled with praise and in awe of a God who truly does work miracles.

What are you supposed to do when you realize that you have stood witnessing the direct power of God in action in a very tangible, very practical way? When Moses experienced God in the Old Testament even in a very small way he was changed in a very practical way. His physical presence was changed such that all Israel could see! When Isaiah experienced God in a vision, He was immediately struck with despair, saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV). These are only two individuals who experienced God and His power and were changed by those experiences.

Witnessing God’s power changes us in many ways, both in terms of how we live and how we think. After seeing something like this, how can I not be reminded of God’s incredible power over not just the human body, but over all of life? How can I think of God as small or irrelevant to my life?

And how can I not tell others about what He has done in my life? My family has been given an incredibly powerful testimony through this experience. It would be an eternal shame for that to be wasted sitting around moping because I don’t understand why my circumstances today are the tiniest bit inconvenient or difficult. He has brought me and my family through so much. How can I not trust that He can get me through a week where my car won’t start or through a tough day of schoolwork?

How can the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 66 not be the anthem of my life from this point forward? “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. … [W]e went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. … Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” May those words resonate from my soul out through my words and actions into the lives of those I come into contact with. Anything less than that would be letting this experience be just another thing that happens, and that’s clearly not what has happened. This was a miracle.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Questions (And Answers)

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The following is the eighth in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

As I look back on my first post in this series, I can’t help but be amazed at how God worked out each of the questions I had (or is still doing so). I’ll refer you to a paragraph in that first post:

Here’s where things get tough. I can’t help but wonder now if I made the right decision in coming back. I have so many questions that need answering. Why did this happen? How is Mom? Is her memory improving? Is her mobility getting better? Will she be able to make a full recovery? Should I have stayed? Should I take a year off and work? Where would I work if I did? If I stay can I catch up? Will I even enjoy what’s left of the last semester of my senior year? Is it wrong to wonder that? Should I go back so my Dad can go return to work? If I go back, will I regret not staying? Should I drop a class and take it this summer? Can I even afford to take a class this summer? Or should I just slog through, get a not-so-great grade and be done?

Mom’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. When I consider and compare where she was those first few days in the hospital to where she is today, there is no other word I can use but “miracle.” It’s been amazing to see God work through that. Her recovery continues today!

As for questions about school: Today I’m just a few short days from graduation! This has not been an easy semester, but I’m glad that I stuck with it. I’ve been able to enjoy many things about these past few months, and I’ve been able to do better than I expected in my classes. I’m so thankful for the friends that helped to make this semester a good one. I can’t say enough about how much that has meant to me.

It’s amazing to see how God works out all of our questions, not in our time, but in His. When I first came back to school I wanted answers RIGHT NOW. I needed to know what the right decisions were at that moment and felt so powerless when I didn’t know what to do. But God reminded me that He is in control and that His timing is best.

He didn’t answer every one of those questions right away, but instead in His own time. Throughout all this He has reminded me regularly that His ways are best, that He is still God and that He is still powerful, even amidst the circumstances of life that might try to convince me otherwise. For every question that I have about His providence, His Word speaks strongly:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:25-34, ESV (emphasis added)

I am in awe of the Great Question Answerer, who is Himself the Great Answer to every curveball life might throw my way. Circumstances, opportunities and situations may change, but He is constant through them all. What a comforting thought that is.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Control

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The following is the seventh in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

At the beginning of this series I wrote that I would be exploring some of the lessons that I’ve taken away from this whole experience. This post is one such exploration.

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned from all of this is how little I control my life. I make plans. I strategize. I create schedules. I need to know what I’ll be doing next. I need to understand what my day, my week, my semester and beyond will look like. All of these things matter a great deal to me. In the end, though, all my planning doesn’t matter in the face of an almighty, all-powerful, transcendent God’s plans.

I had a relatively easy, enjoyable semester planned for myself the last semester of my senior year in college. I would finish out the rest of my time in college enjoying putting the finishing touches on my resume, applying for jobs and creating memory upon blissful memory in my final extended period of time with my friends. In short, I would be #blessed. Sorry, I’ve made that joke before, haven’t I? Too easy.

All that I had planned? God had other plans.

Not only did His plan involve bringing my Mom close to death, but also her working through the excruciating, exhausting road to recovery. Therapies, appointments and consultations crowd the family calendar to the point where we rejoice when Mom has a free day. My Mom is a fighter, she has willed her way through this process, and He has carried her through it. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

None of this happened because she or anyone else wanted it to. But God did. For whatever reason in his infinite wisdom He decided to hand this situation to my Mom and our family. There’s no changing that. We can’t control that. The thing that we can control is our response to His plan. Do we rejoice at His providence? Or do we forget about His control and care?

In the end, experiences like this remind us how little we control our lives and how much we rely on God for. We’re small, fragile, insignificant specks of dust whirling through space on a small, fragile insignificant speck of dust. Only by God’s upholding hand do we, do I, subsist. What a thought that is.

While I’d rather be reminded of that lesson through a hard-hitting book, a convicting sermon or an all-around easier experience, I don’t think I would have understood this lesson in quite the same way through those things. I can’t quite bring myself to say that I’m thankful that this happened, but I can say that I can see how God has worked through it in some way. While relinquishing control of my life to Him is a daily battle, doing so is ultimately good because it reminds me of who is truly on the throne of my life. Thanks be to God that it isn’t me.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Life on Pause

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The following is the sixth in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

For us, life was on pause, but for everyone else, life kept going on. We saw no clearer reminder of this than when we looked out the window and saw University of Iowa students rushing to class, or when we simply stepped into one of the many busy hallways that snaked throughout the hospital. Doctors, nurses, students, other families, patients moved with purpose to their destinations, purposeful and determined. But for us, there were only simple tasks. Typically the biggest decision we would have to make in a day was where we were going to eat. For us, life was on pause.

Initially, it was one of the strangest feelings to pull up Twitter or Facebook and see that for everyone else, life was carrying on as if nothing was happening. It almost made me sick to look at the jokes, the news reports on Twitter, all scrolling by as if everything was normal. For us, everything was anything but normal, but for the world, it was just another day.

It was very strange to dip back into the flow of the world on a trip to the grocery store or on a visit to any one of the various nursing homes we considered for Mom’s therapy. The world felt foreign. We had been in the hospital for so long that it had become our world.

The only way I can describe it is by comparing it to one of those time lapses where you see an individual standing there looking at the camera as the world rushes by. It’s one of the strangest feelings I think I’ve ever experienced.

At some points it felt like we would never leave. But eventually we did. It didn’t happen quickly. It didn’t happen on our timeline. But it happened. While things perhaps still aren’t happening on our timeline, they are happening under control, God’s control. Gradually life unpaused itself, and we each find ourselves back to some version of “normal,” whatever that means.

I’m thankful for normal. So often it’s easy to be unsatisfied with the perceived drudgery of life. I get up, get ready for my day, go to class, go to work, eat, do homework, go to the gym, go to bed and then repeat that same process again the next day. But this semester has made me thankful for that version of life, that version of normal, for the unpaused life that I don’t appreciate enough.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: “Hello, Boss”

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The following is the fifth in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

He’s a shorter man, looks to be of Arabic descent and has a normal litany of phrases he uses on those who come through his line at the hospital cafeteria.

“Hello, boss,” is one. He says this as a greeting to everyone who shuffles through his line. In his line, everyone is “boss.” It doesn’t matter who it is – young, old, male, female – everyone is “boss.” Maybe it’s his way of adding some life to an otherwise dull job. Maybe it’s his way of bringing a bit of encouragement to his customer’s days. Whatever the reason, it’s his shtick.

His name is Nadeem, and he is one of the many individuals we met while we were at the University of Iowa hospital who brightened our days just a bit.

He’s almost always perched on a chair behind the cash register, just high enough that his short legs can’t quite touch the ground. On the rare occasion you might see him not sitting at the register, he’s moving quickly through the dining room, taking care of some errand, hovering amidst the fine distinction between speed-walking and jogging. He’s determined and doesn’t waste time.

As my dad, my sister and I slowly achieve the classification of “regulars” in the hospital cafeteria, he starts to recognize us. We start to go through his line exclusively, even if we have to wait in a line one or two people longer. It’s worth it.

Throughout our time there, we gradually talk with him more. He tells us to hold on to our receipts, saying that they’re tax exempt since they’re from a hospital. He tells us a story about his childhood and his father and the reasons he puts a priority on serving others.

“How’s the patient?” is another phrase we hear each time we come through the line. He asks this of most every family or individual who looks like they are there to be with a patient. We’re not hard to pick out.

As he scans our trays he cracks jokes and keeps the mood light. “Eh, we got chip time here,” he says as his gaze passes over a bag of Baked Lays. “We got Miller time here,” he chuckles, pointing to a glass of water. He’s probably made this joke a dozen times already today, but he still laughs at it, and I do to, despite myself having heard it more than enough times for it to be reasonably humorous.

Eventually he rings up the total, someone pays him and he gives back the change. “God bless,” he says, nodding. He does this every time without fail.

Never underestimate the power of saying a few words to someone. You never know how it might make their day just a bit better. You never know how God might use you to touch someone’s life.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: 27 and 28

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The following is the fourth in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

If you’ve never read through the Heidelberg Catechism, you really should take the time to explore its depths. It’s a wonderful summary of the basic doctrines that make up Christianity. This historical collection of questions and answers was written in 1563, but it’s as relevant today as it was back then. This catechism is split up into 52 “Lord’s Days” (to make it easy to be preached through once a week for a year) and is filled with so many wonderful passages that are incredibly relevant to everyday life. Growing up I regularly heard the words of this document read and preached through, but it wasn’t until many years later, on a quiet Iowa City street that they became incredibly, specifically relevant in my life.

Over this past Christmas break I read through Lord’s Day 10 as I was working through a book on the catechism, and was struck by how pointed and comforting its words were. I filed it away in my mind and went on with life.

The day of my Mom’s major surgery, my sister and I were running a quick errand. We were talking about the whole situation and were struggling to come up with answers when I remembered reading the 27th and 28th questions and answers on that December evening. As we drove through a quiet residential neighborhood, I read these words with not as much confidence as I really wanted to muster up:

27.
Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

28.
Q. What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?
A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.

We prayed, finished our errand and headed back to the hospital where humanly-speaking, only uncertainty awaited, but for that moment at least, we were comforted by those 451-year-old words and the timeless truths that inspired their writers. God was there, holding us all in His hands, no matter what happened. This whole situation was not an accident. Whatever the reason, it came from His hands.

“…[I]ndeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

“…[N]o creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”

Could there be a better place to be?

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Edelweiss

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The following is the third in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’"
-Kurt Vonnegut

When I came across this quote a few years ago, I realized that I very rarely stopped to enjoy the small moments of life. And so I decided to follow Vonnegut’s advice. For awhile I actually repeated this phrase to myself every time I came across a moment I didn’t want to forget. I still do every once and awhile, but now it’s become something that I do without thinking.

One such moment came after my Mom was moved from the University of Iowa to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids for a therapy program. The day after she got there she was in therapy. After having spent weeks in bed, the therapists and nurses were moving her around, stretching her and moving her muscles in ways they hadn’t been moved in awhile.

While she was in at the university, she had had the majority of her meals while laying in bed, simply because she didn’t have enough strength to sit at a table. But this week, she had enough strength to take her lunch at a table for the first time. This may not seem like much to you, but after seeing her have to eat off a tray while sitting in bed for three weeks, it was absolutely wonderful to see her sitting up at a table. It’s one of the many little, normal things that you don’t appreciate until someone you love can’t do them.

On this particular day my dad, my sister and I packed a lunch to eat with her in the dining room. After we unpacked our lunch, we prayed as a family and began to eat. We started to eat, and then suddenly, I realized that we were doing something very normal. We were eating as a family, together, just like we would normally.

Shortly after this moment, a man came in to the room and unpacked a violin. He tuned the instrument and then began to play. Soon, he was joined by a piano-playing nurse. The piano was badly in need of tuning, but to be honest, I didn’t care a bit. The pair played simple tunes and songs, but their music was as beautiful as any symphony I’ve ever heard.

Sure, it’s not like we were in a concert hall, and sure, it’s not like we were eating in our kitchen at home, and sure, there was no way you were going to mistake that hall for anything but an extension of the hospital, what with nurses and medical equipment always no further than a few feet away, but for the moment, all that was forgotten. In the midst of that dining hall, life was a small shade of normal, just for a few minutes.

The two musicians began to play the song “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. I’ve always found the song to be beautiful, but I had never heard it in the same way that I did that day. As we sat there eating our lunch, listening to the music, I looked around at my family and savored the moment. Now whenever I hear that song, I can’t help but think of that simple, beautiful moment.

“This is nice,” I remember my Mom saying. And I realized that this was nice. Despite all my thoughts and questions about how therapy was going, how much schoolwork I had to get done, what the next steps for each of us were, we had a brief moment where things were normal again. Like all moments, nice or not, it eventually passed, but that’s not to say that I can’t remember and enjoy it. God gave us that time together, even if only for a moment, and if it wasn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

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Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: Faces and Empathy

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The following is the second in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm.

In the course of my adult life, I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about empathy and what it truly means to recognize others as human. The easiest way to think about this is to remember the last time you walked down a busy sidewalk or drove through rush hour traffic. It’s so easy to think of all those people rushing around you, driving beside you as just things. It takes conscious effort and concentration to think of them as real humans, with thoughts, hopes, desires, dreams, fears, temptations, emotions and real lives. They aren’t things passing by, obstacles to be overcome. They’re people made in the image of God.

There are so many stories going on around us for us to see, if we only choose to look. It wasn’t until this last few weeks spent at the hospital as a result of my Mom’s stroke, that I thought about this in a very practical way. When you spend an extended amount of time in a hospital, you come to notice a lot of things about your environment simply because of how much waiting you have to do.

When I started to focus more on the people, I started to see things I never saw before. I think people become more transparent in such an environment. I saw pain, sorrow, joy, happiness and a whole mess of other emotions that I miss when I’m rushing down the sidewalk late to class or hurrying through the supermarket or speeding down the interstate.

You can tell a lot about someone just by looking at their face. There are tired faces, confused faces, lost faces, bored faces, anxious faces, happy faces (usually best seen when they are leaving), purposeful faces. In their face, their eyes, you can see why someone is there. Perhaps they’re about to start a long shift. Perhaps they’re walking to see their father as they go on their seventh week in this place. Perhaps they’re close to leaving. Perhaps they feel like they’re never going to leave. I know I felt like that at least once.

There are so many stories there, each unique and utterly real to the person dealing with those circumstances. Maybe it’s because everyone is in the same helpless boat, just waiting for answers, hoping and praying for the best, but it’s not hard to strike up a conversation in a hospital. You just have to be willing to look.

Here’s where it gets tough. Sooner or later those faces leave the hospital, and those emotions get masked. After all, no one wants to see that, right? No matter how hidden though, they’re there. So next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or bumps into you on the sidewalk, before you lose it on them, just stop for a moment and consider what they might be going through.

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David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College helped to give me a lot of perspective in this area. The speech is all about the value of a collegiate degree really being in finding the ability to consciously choose how to think. Below are some of his words related to this idea:

…[T]he traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and I’m tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of these stupid [expletive] people.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in his way.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.

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One thing I’ve learned from all this, is a deep sense of empathy for others. Maybe that’s one of things I’m supposed to get from all this. It’s hard not to be changed when you live in a hospital for a month. You start to see things differently than you did before. You recognize that here, people are going through some of the most difficult circumstances they will face in their life. And then, eventually they have to leave and move on and in some cases pretend like everything is OK. Even if they’re not going through something like this, cutting another person some slack for no other reason than you just being a decent human, wouldn’t be the worst thing you’ve ever done.

One very practical way I’ve decided to respond to this line of thinking is through a small decision I made one day while walking those endless hospital corridors. I decided to start giving a small smile to as many people as I could in the hallways there. It’s small, and it probably doesn’t mean much to most people I passed, but it’s one way I could maybe make their day just a tad bit better, and it helps me to stop thinking of everyone else as just a thing, and instead, as more of a real human. I’ve decided to keep doing it wherever I am. It’s little, but it helps. Trust me. Give it a shot.

In summary, just remember: Behind each face is a story. When you think of life in that way, it’s much easier to cut people some slack. It won’t be easy, and some days you won’t really want to do it. Empathy is not a default human response. It’s decidedly very difficult to do, to think of someone else and what they might be going through. But when you do, I think you’ll find it incredibly refreshing and worthwhile.

God created each person you pass in His own image. They have intrinsic value because they were created as such. Treat them that way.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 | Part 10

A Miracle Observed: An Introduction

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The following is the first in a ten-part series I am writing on my and my family’s experience and response to my Mom’s stroke following a brain aneurysm. This series is for a writing course I am currently enrolled in and will last for five weeks (two posts each week). In this series I’ll describe my perspective on what the weeks following this injury were like for all of us, how we responded and what moving on will be like.

There is much to be encouraged about in this story, but I won’t pretend that it’s all puppies and daisies. I could sit here and pretend that I understand what this all means, and you likely wouldn’t be any wiser. But part of personal reflection as a writer is being honest with yourself and your audience. Everything you read here is exactly how I feel.

As a fair warning, these posts will be very personal. To be honest, you really aren’t the primary audience for all this reflection. I am. I’ve wanted to write something about this experience for quite some time, but just haven’t had the reason to do so until now. Sure I’ll get a grade for this, but to be honest, I really couldn’t care less. I’m hoping that this reflection will help me to understand what this all means and how I should respond. This is as much (if not more so) me thinking “aloud” as it is me writing a post for you to read.

I apologize if reading something like this makes you uncomfortable or if it makes the next time we see each other even a little bit strange. This has been my life for the recent past, so when I had the opportunity to write about something for an extended period of time, there was never going to be anything else I was going to write about. I’m just trying to figure out what this all means. Thanks for understanding.

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I was sitting in the lounge in one of the dorms on the campus of Cedarville University, my southwestern Ohio home for the past four years. It was there, eight hours and 535 miles from my home in eastern Iowa, that I got the news.

I was watching a basketball game with a couple friends, completely absorbed in the ebb and flow of the contest. Completely absorbed, that is, until I got a text from my sister, Karen.

“Hey—pray for mom. Her neck got really stiff after church and then she couldn’t get up.”

Suddenly the basketball game meant very little to me. I stayed and watched the ending, because I didn’t know what else to do. What are you supposed to do when you’re that far away? I’ve never felt more numb or surprised.

That’s how it started. The start of a simple text message from my sister on Sunday, January 12, 2014, at 1:48 p.m. signaled the beginning of one of the most difficult, painful, trying months of my life. I don’t doubt that the rest of my family would describe it in the same way.

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A little more than 24 hours later I’m sitting alone, looking out over a quiet Iowa City street. It’s getting later in the day, and it’s turned dark outside. I flew home early this morning, but I feel just as helpless as I did back in Ohio. After being in critical condition overnight, Mom is in surgery at the University of Iowa, and all we can do now is wait. The last thing I heard the surgeon say was, “This is a very complicated surgery, but I’m hopeful.” Not exactly the words of surging confidence you want to hear at a time like this. At least he’s honest.

Just a couple hours earlier my grandparents arrived only minutes before my Mom was wheeled to the operating room. Nothing prepares you for the absolute wave of utter helplessness that comes over you when you first see someone you love sedated and on their back in the Intensive Care Unit, hooked to goodness knows how many machines, wires and tubes. As he enters the room you can see it come over Grandpa. He, the Army veteran, breaks down into sobs after just a few moments in the room. It hurts to watch.

And then they’re off. Surgery is underway shortly after.

We all wander down to the waiting room to wait. And wait. Eventually a “normal” conversation starts among those who have joined us. I can’t sit there and listen to this all, so I leave and find that quiet glass skywalk overlooking that silent Iowa City street several stories below.

Eventually my grandpa and a few of the men from the group come walking down the hall, out on a walk to stretch their legs and probably to calm their nerves. My grandpa sits down next to me and says, “You always think this sort of thing will happen to someone else.” I couldn’t agree more. You don’t see this sort of thing coming. There’s nothing you can do to prepare for it.

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I won’t claim to understand all the physiology behind what happened to Mom, but I’ll tell you what I know based on conversations with the doctors, friends who know this stuff much better than I do, and Wikipedia. Please take my explanation with a grain of salt, as I am in no way a neuroscientist.

What landed Mom in the hospital is called a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. In layperson terms, this means that for some reason, blood was spilling from an artery in her head out into an area surrounding her brain. For as powerful as the brain is, it’s a fragile organ. Pressure build-up for any extended amount of time in this area of your body is VERY dangerous.

I’ve been reading a book on strokes and one neuroscientist’s personal experience with her own stroke, and she had this to say about the type of stroke Mom had: “Blood is toxic to neurons when it comes in direct contact with them, so any leak or vascular blowout can have devastating effects on the brain.”

As Wikipedia will tell you, the prognosis for this type of brain injury is not great:

“[Subarachnoid hemorrhage] is a medical emergency and can lead to death or severe disability—even when recognized and treated at an early stage. Up to half of all cases of SAH are fatal and 10–15 percent of casualties die before reaching a hospital, and those who survive often have neurological or cognitive impairment.”

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Amazingly, a few long weeks later Mom is in an in-patient rehab program at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, just a few short minutes from our home. She has been making remarkable strides in her recovery, and it’s wonderful to see the progress she makes each day. She is walking, talking and doing everything she should. While her short term memory can be suspect at times, her long term memory is as good as it always been. She is still in therapy today. We hope to see her at home soon. She is incredibly anxious to be there. For now at least, things are looking good. That’s all we can ask for.

I know that we are nowhere near the end of this story and that a long road to what we all hope will be a full recovery for my Mom is still ahead. We trust that God will bring her through each trial that appears along that road. He’s brought us this far.

For all the sadness and pain that this whole event caused our family, there is one thing I want to make unequivocally clear. It is without a doubt in my mind that I tell you this: It is a miracle from God that my Mom is alive and on the path to recovery that she is today. Please do not forget this. Many people with this condition don’t make it to the hospital, let alone recover to the point where she is today. I have to remind myself of this regularly.

When you live in the world of a hospital for a month, it can be easy to think that all this technology, all this knowledge, all these procedures, all those degrees, saved my Mom’s life on their own. They didn’t. God worked through each of these things to heal her. That is one of the few things I have clarity about through all of this.

I’m back at Cedarville University now. Mom is still in therapy, and I’m back to class, exactly one month behind in each of my five courses. I get regular updates from Dad or Karen on how she’s doing. I receive FaceTime calls and video clips from the hospital, but ultimately they are like a sunny day in January: a wonderful, temporary gift, but not quite the thing you really want or need.

Here’s where things get tough. I can’t help but wonder now if I made the right decision in coming back. I have so many questions that need answering. Why did this happen? How is Mom? Is her memory improving? Is her mobility getting better? Will she be able to make a full recovery? Should I have stayed? Should I take a year off and work? Where would I work if I did? If I stay can I catch up? Will I even enjoy what’s left of the last semester of my senior year? Is it wrong to wonder that? Should I go back so my Dad can go return to work? If I go back, will I regret not staying? Should I drop a class and take it this summer? Can I even afford to take a class this summer? Or should I just slog through, get a not-so-great grade and be done?

Lately life has offered so, so many questions and I have so, so few answers. My answer to just about every question lately is a resounding, “I DON’T KNOW!” and every time I ask for help from God it feels like I’m talking to a wall. Just about every day I pray the supplication of the father in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I don’t really know what else to do.

It’s one thing to trust God on your way to church on Sunday morning, listening to “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” coming through the speakers of your car. It’s entirely another to trust him a few hours later when your world has been rocked; when you have to leave that whole situation behind, go back to your life and pretend that everything is normal; when you look at the list of things you’re expected to catch up on and it makes you just laugh, and not in a “ha-ha” funny way, but a “Wow, I am up that creek without a paddle ha-ha” funny way; when you have to smile, nod and be polite in class when all you want to do is just yell at the world until your lungs burn. I’m trying to trust, but man, is it hard when your world is this way.

This is typically the part of a good Christian blog post where I should mention a few Bible verses and talk about how encouraged and #blessed that I am. But, to be honest, I don’t feel either of those things. I know I should, I mean, look at the miracle that occured in my life. But what about now, when there are so many questions that need answered, and when all I hear when I pray is the sound of my own thoughts?

I’m not depressed, and I’m not becoming an atheist. I’m just wondering a bit. God is good no matter what my circumstances are. I trust that. I just wish I could hear Him now.

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So there you have it: an introduction to this series. Like I said: not all puppies and daisies, but it’s all true. Along the way in this series I’ll fill in some of the details of what happened, how we’re all doing and what I discover along the way. I promise every post won’t all be as long as this one is (read: I don’t have the time to write this much twice a week.).

In the end I hope these posts help me to crystallize my thoughts and figure some things out about who I am, who God is and what trusting Him should look like. As I wrote earlier, the main point of these is to get me to think about what this all means. If it sparks a helpful thought or meaningful conversation with a friend I’ll consider them a success.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9 | Part 10