In the middle of my wilderness, all I could hope for was survival. I wanted my dad to survive and recover fully, but I was mindlessly roaming thru each day trying to survive myself. I know that I can’t live my life waiting for the next bad thing to happen, but I feel like that’s all I seem to do. My brain has been trained to believe that negative experiences pile up, that I might actually deserve these unwanted things and that they are probably unavoidable. My heart feels differently. My spirit knows better. But sometimes the evidence ignores my faith.
Three days after we got Dad home, my mom started feeling really sick. She was nauseous and her left shoulder was aching. It was a Sunday evening and I was with my friends, chaperoning a youth group night out. When I arrived, mom was pacing in the kitchen. I’m so glad I came home early that night because we packed her up and went to the emergency room just to be safe. After one test, they determined she was having a heart attack and she was rushed into surgery. They put in three stents and determined that she would need three more in a few weeks. Her recovery was so slow. Those nights in the hospital waiting room had definitely taken their toll, but Mom knew that the same God that healed her husband would be more than able to heal her too. With that truth firmly planted in her heart, she became overwhelmed with peace.
Mom’s surgery happened on August 7, 2005. She only had a few weeks left of her family leave, so the doctor did the other heart surgery in late August. Mom would have to go back to work before October 1st to ensure she still had a job, so they wanted to give her as much recovery time as possible. God’s providence was all over our entire experience. From the perfect surgeon being the only doctor on duty to the attentiveness of a very available hospital staff, nothing regarding Mom’s care was a mistake. I had handled Dad’s sickness with more serenity than I ever thought possible. Some of it was the palatable peace of God, but other moments tended toward numbness. If the first of our experiences had stunned me, by this point in our story, I’m in a full daze.
I plodded through life, day after day. September found me graduating college. Life just went on. In October, I was ordained six days before I turned 21. Each of these were momentous life occasions, but all I could see was a blur. I still have no emotion about any of it; I can’t recall many details other than what the photographs captured. I thought I was healing, helping myself move on. The truth is though that I was living so far within myself, so emotionally withdrawn, that I was protecting myself from reality. This was the season in which I learned to live in fear. The string of extreme events led to the day I began to fall apart.
November. The day that fell apart became the month I withdrew entirely. I stayed in bed all day, every day. I would eat, I’d listen to music, I’d watch TV… but I didn’t want to see anyone, go anywhere or be anything. Physically and emotionally, I had gone as far as I could go. My few days of rest turned into a season of depression. No one blamed me for needing space, but no one also knew the depths to which I was sinking. I know the prayers of my family are what gave me the courage to rejoin my life again. When it came time to prepare for the holidays, I remember thinking I needed to choose. I didn’t jump back into the same life I had once lived, but my darker November days were actually my healing place.
I know that Jesus met each of the people in my family in a unique way that year. Some in sickness, some in stress, and me in silence. We could’ve made the decision to give up at any time in this story. Continuing to see your purpose through may actually be the harder decision to make some days. I had to keep showing up so God could keep showing off. I had every right to live in fear. I had every opportunity to give in. But neither of those choices were going to create a story I’d love to tell.
In the days since 2005, I have had at least three other horrific experiences that have thrown me to the foot of the cross. I should live close to Calvary each day, but sadly I forget how precious my life and His grace is when things start going too well. In May 2011, when my grandfather’s church was struck by lightning, my family chose to do much of the rebuilding ourselves during the second hottest summer on record. Long days, high temperatures, tight spaces and tons of effort… there are still some days Dad doesn’t remember driving home. In September 2012, my mom had another heart attack and I contracted E Coli while we were on vacation in Kansas. Six hours has never seemed farther away. Then, most recently in March 2016, I learned CPR from a 911 operator because my dad had a seizure after an acute sleep apnea episode and was trying to die in his sleep at home. This was the moment that brought me here.
I’ve spent 12 years stuck in the doldrums, preparing for the worst. With Dad’s last scare, I knew I would have to deal differently. I recognized lots of unhealthy patterns I had developed and even more out-right lies I had believed. While it’s true what they say, “When it rains, it pours,” it’s also exactly what rain is supposed to do. That’s just what gravity does. I can’t get mad when circumstances cannot be avoided or when things just don’t meet my expectations. We are supposed to develop a rhythm that can thrive in every season, no matter the tide. Life is supposed to be a crazy blend of amazing and difficult times. I also know that for those in a drought, they pray for the deluge. Maybe we don’t know how much we need.
With all of the excitement, I learned that my greatest strength is in my stillness. I have seen God move in miraculous ways because I allowed Him the space to do so. My trust has grown infinitely because I quit trying to run my own show. All of these trials have revealed to me that I can’t run away. I have faced one difficult thing – or two or five impossible things – maybe I can face a few more. I must expend more energy to find Jesus in those troubled times. I no longer need to fix the big things on my own; I can let my pride lie in shambles with the rest of my schedule. Anytime someone gives me a piece of bad news, I can sigh in resignation but I must reply in faith. There’s nothing I’ve seen – and nothing I haven’t seen – that Jesus can’t lead me through.
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
These verses, James 1:12-17 (ESV), remind me that God’s promises are true and that His gifts are good. Sometimes, the only gift He brings is Himself, and in the storm, that is enough.