Here I raise my Ebenezer…

-Written by Anna-

This week marks one year since we brought Mom home from rehab. It was a day of celebration! However when I think back on it I remember very clearly the frustrations and the fears.

Frustration – Our departure ended up being weeks earlier than anticipated. The day of our departure though found us waiting all day for the paperwork for her release. Finally it came around dinnertime. God bless the sweet therapist that came after her shift to help us order the equipment we needed at the house, our local pharmacy that stayed open late just to fill Mom’s prescriptions and the nurses that walked us through her medications.

Fear – I clearly remember the fear! It took three trained aides to get Mom in our car. Could Dad and I manage to get her safely out? She was only a week out of surgery and still so weak and fragile! Would her wheelchair fit through our doorways? Could we care for her safely at home? How were we going to navigate this new reality?

Joy – And yet in the midst of frustrations and fears, there was a deep sense of joy and gratitude! We were bringing Mom home! Something we could not have imagined three months earlier! Truly a miracle!

Three months had passed since Mom had walked out of the house for lung surgery. So much had changed. We were all different people. For Mom, many of the changes were obvious. She was now being wheeled into the house that she had walked out of three months earlier, now dependent on others for everything. Yet some of the changes were not as obvious. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death changes you. And it should.

The type of change though is a choice.  As our family seeks to adjust to our new normal my prayer has and continues to be that we would all be changed and changed for the better! In recent months we have each faced moments of overwhelming gratitude and overwhelming grief as we look at the losses and gains of this past year. I don’t pretend to have any answers but I do believe that by walking through the valley we have come to know in deeper ways the One who chose the path of suffering for us! What an amazing gift to serve and follow a God who understands suffering and loss! Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Today in my Bible 7 class we acted out the book of I Samuel. Yes, you read that right. It was either a brilliant move or a moment of insanity that led me to try and act out thirty-one chapters of Old Testament history with sixteen 7th graders! I don’t know how much they got out of it (aside from the great fun of acting out battle scenes with your classmates of course!) But as I poured over the book in preparation I was moved by seeing HIS story unfold in the midst of personal and national struggles. I was inspired by the heroes of the faith who turned to God in their moments of suffering and joy and I was grieved by the tragedy of those who let their fears and insecurities keep them from obeying Him! I was struck by the fact that the real victories and losses seemed to occur before and/or after the battle/crisis not during. But the part that really stood out to me this morning was a passage from a very familiar story. After an Israelite victory over the Philistines, Samuel raised a stone and called it Ebenezer. “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” (I Samuel 7:12) Samuel knew that their victory was from the Lord and the stone served as a physical reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people. 

As we mark another milestone in this journey, a year of Mom being back at home, I would like to raise our Ebenezer and testify to the fact that “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” And just like Samuel we know that there will be more battles to come, but this Ebenezer stone is a reminder to the people of the faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

Much has changed in our lives in the last year but we serve the same God as Samuel and His loving kindness and faithfulness have not changed. Hallelujah! What a Savior! 

 

Brokenness

I have found great freedom lately in coming to the awareness that I do not have to understand God to know Him. In fact, knowing Him helps bring understanding, but understanding is not essential to knowing and living in relationship with Him. If I had waited to understand my husband,Stan, before I married him, I would still be unmarried. Of course, understanding helps with knowledge but it is not a necessity to entering into relationship, or, may I add, staying in relationship.

Jesus didn’t explain His love He demonstrated it. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)”Certainly this is true with the mystery of suffering. Rather than giving us a book of answers to the question of why we suffer, He shows us by suffering Himself for my sake!

this-is-my-bodyLast week while taking communion at church I was in a lot of physical pain as I heard the words,”this is my body, broken for you.” Tears filled my eyes as I was ever so aware in that moment of my own broken body and brokenness. I realized anew how amazing the Good News really is that He suffered for us, in part so that He could suffer with us. He did this so that though we may never understand all the reasons for our sufferings, we would never have to walk through our sufferings alone! Our God knows what it is to suffer and to be broken. He identifies in all things with us. This is a comfort to me, as I live with my broken body and as I try to wrap my mind around His brokenness for me!

Recently, on a day when Stan and I were feeling the losses more than the comforts in this “recovery” (the word makes me feel like laughing now), we both got in touch with some of the losses we have experienced and commenting about changes in who we are now. Stan admitted to missing the wife he has known for 39 years and I admitted to missing her as well. Painful yet freeing to acknowledge. Then I saw a picture of us taken just a couple of years ago and irritation, even anger, rose up inside me. We are not those people anymore! That youngish, vibrant couple is gone. Suffering and care giving have aged us both but it has also changed who we are. The realization that we are not going back to the people we once were (recovery), but becoming something new, (re-discovery) tempered and hopefully refined by suffering. The thought was both sobering and freeing.

I recently heard the story of country singer, Joey Feek, a young wife and mother who recently passed away from cancer. I was told that she testified that her life was different when, after the return of cancer, she saw a sign that said, “This is your life.” From this point on, she was free to live what was left of it. This is your life. You have NOW. Live it as long as you can. It was like a fresh calling to me, too, to LIVE THIS life, the one I have now, embracing the brokenness. Because the brokenness is the only path to wholeness, not to recovery, but to becoming a new creation.”Behold He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5)” So I am learning to live the life He’s given me, broken pieces and all.

“He makes everything beautiful in His time”…even me. (Ecc. 3:11)

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His Comforts

“Just as the sufferings of Christ overflow in your lives, so do the comforts.” (I Cor. 1:5) I am experiencing the truth of this verse in new ways these days. And though this year has brought suffering, it has also brought His comforts.

img_1352His Word. A Bible verse that has brought me comfort me over and over again in this journey is I Tim.4:17: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” Knowing that He could stand even when I couldn’t comforted me. Knowing that He stood beside my bed brought comfort when I felt alone, as one often does in pain or suffering. He has stood by me through each stage of this journey. What a comfort! (Thankful for friends who gave me this early on in my journey. It continues to hang in our living room as a daily reminder)

img_2285Aslan. Another source of comfort to me has come in the form of a small stuffed lion. It was a gift from my grandson, Jaden. We named him Aslan after the good, though not tame, lion in C.S Lewis’s Narnia books.  Aslan went with me everywhere. During one of my transfers, the ambulance driver asked, “Does he go too?” “He goes wherever I go,” I answered.  As in Narnia, the presence of Aslan makes everything alright. I could imagine Jesus with me, just as Aslan was, everywhere I went. And every time they moved me, I knew that God was with me, fighting for me, standing with me. Aslan is still never far from me. He reminds me that I am loved and “I am His”, and He has been beside me through it all, giving me strength. What a comfort!

Music. Especially in the early days of recovery, when reading was difficult, music was a real comfort. Here is one song, among many, that brought and continues to bring comfort. Chris Tomlin – The Roar

flowersGifts. I am always blessed and amazed at how perfectly timed His comforts are. One example (among many) occurred just this past week, shortly after my fall. I was returning from a doctor visit and feeling particularly tired and discouraged only to be greeted by a beautiful bouquet of flowers from cousins that live on the other side of the world. What a comfort!

img_2280Beauty/Memories of His goodness. Near my chair, where I spend most of my time, I have pictures of the lavender fields from the South of France. They remind me not only of the amazing beauty of God’s creation but of a wonderful long weekend spent in France with my daughter just a few months before my stroke. What a comfort to be reminded of His goodness to me!

I have heard that in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula (where the Israelites spent so much time) that there are few,if any, signs of life, except for the broom trees that dot the landscape. These trees provide the only shade from the sun and the only cover when night falls. Their wood also provides for fires when the cool of night comes. Broom trees! That’s what God gives us in the midst of the most barren places of our lives. Broom trees like a special verse, ambulance drivers, stuffed lions, grandchildren, family, friends who show up when I need them most, etc. Each brings comfort in His name and encouragement along the desert journey.

I have seen His comforts again and again and have learned not to despise even the smallest of comforts in the midst of trials. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”Psalm 23:4  His rod and staff will and do bring comfort. I pray that we all have eyes to see His many comforts even in the midst of suffering.

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Setback

I anticipated it. I imagined it. But somehow I didn’t see it coming. I had been warned, prepared, chided, threatened: “do not to walk alone because you might fall.” I was elated to have taken myself to the restroom, and then I went down – no stumble, no trip, my left side just caved. I went down hard.

After being helped up, I realized that Wilson (my left arm) had acted on my behalf, trying to brace my fall, since I landed on him, having twisted my wrist to buffer the fall. My spirits went down with me. Then I remembered, “just as the sufferings of Christ overflow in your lives, so do the comforts.” (I Cor. 1:5) I have quoted this many times in my life as I do believe that God, our Father, never leaves us comfortless. Even in the deepest losses and darkest valleys He gives us enough comfort and encouragement to get through.

My loss in falling was being calculated even before I hit the ground, as I considered if I could get up, and if so, how much damage, how big a setback would this be. My walking was progressing, even though very wobbly and unsteady before the fall. I was just adjusting again to the timetable that held mobility as still possible in the future, but not anytime soon.

My spirits sank until I realized/remembered…

  1. my head had not hit the brick hearth going down
  2. I landed on the carpet in my own living room
  3. two friends were with me who were successful, the first time, in getting me up
  4. there were no protruding bones from my left arm
  5. my left side, which has little feeling, took the brunt of the fall
  6. my brother, who is an ER doctor, walked in shortly after. He was able to look me over and reassure me we could wait until morning to get X-rays. This gave me a chance to recover a bit.
  7. The orthopedic doctor told me that the first X-ray showed the dislocation of my shoulder but the second (CT scan) showed no dislocation, only a simple fracture of the humerus. This made it so they did not have to manipulate and relocate my shoulder joint! Everyone was happy about this, not just me! When the orthopedic doctor asked me how the shoulder got relocated between pictures, I asked him if he believed in prayer, and he accepted this, as did I! With a broken shoulder and two fractured wrist bones, this might seem like small consolation, but it was not, in the moment, I assure you.

Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better, by being positive. But I choose instead to believe that, while I may not understand the ways of God, I do know His character – the God of all comfort, of compassion, and mercy. So why would I be surprised that, in the middle of something negative, that He would find a way to comfort and show mercy toward me, because of who He is, not because of who I am.

This unexpected setback has me in a splint and sling. I am mending slowly. But I was already mending slowly, so I suspect I am still right on His schedule. And I am no worse for it. Though physical therapy will be delayed for further healing.

We should not be surprised by life’s trials, sufferings, setbacks. Nor should we be surprised by His comforts.

Life is hard. God is good. In 2017, I am even choosing to believe that I will be surprised by joy, in ways I never imagined. That’s the kind of Heavenly Father He is.

New Year

This year we made new Christmas memories. All our family gathered here in KY and I was able to be with them, instead of in the hospital. On New Year’s Day, I was at church, rather than being inside an ambulance headed to Cardinal Hill. Gratitude fills our hearts as we count our blessings this year. While I feel so blessed by the family and friends God has given me, I am also filled with gratitude for a God who loved us so much He sent His Son into our story to suffer and to save, that we might enter into His story. At one particularly low moment of pain and suffering in the hospital, I remember being overwhelmed by the very thought that He left Heaven and took on the pain and suffering of this world, even mine, to offer me freedom from sin and life eternal. Several times during the season, this spiritual reality pressed in upon my physical realities. Recently, when I was feeling quite humbled as my therapist was teaching me to turn over and to crawl, I felt like God was saying to me,”I did this for you, humbling myself to come into your circumstances. Would you now do this for me?”

As we start a new year, I feel both relief to end one year and some anxiety at facing a new one. I have to admit it feels like I’m starting a road trip in the rain, with broken headlights. I can’t see the road ahead. I do not know what twists and turns are coming. What else will the Sovereign God allow in my life? I feel, sometimes, as though I have reason to fear. But then I remember that the same God, in Christ, who led me safely through the darkness of last year’s unexpected trauma and losses, can lead me through whatever might be ahead. I have learned through what He has allowed, that fear only robs me of the joy, peace, courage, and faith I so desperately need. I can either clench my fist in anger and anxiety, or I can open it in utter surrender and submission. Lately, I have been purposefully holding my palm open, especially Wilson, who is inclined these days to clenching not opening. It is a good reminder for me to pry it open,in a gesture that helps me open my heart in fresh surrender, saying with Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word, will, and way.” Mary trusted the One writing the story, without knowing the ending. Because of His Word, I know the ending. How much more can I trust Him with the road ahead? He saw this last year for me, when I didn’t. And while he didn’t deliver me from the pain and suffering, He led me through it and chose to enter into it with me. The way to keep anxiety and fear from paralyzing me in the start of a new year is with this open-handed posture of surrender to whatever God allows – knowing He does all things well and He works all together for good.

Throughout this journey, some have commented on my courage, peace, and patience. These are not things I feel, but they are more states of mind or being for me – because I know all is well, that He does all things well, and is in control of all things. Because He lives and He loves, I can embrace each challenge with His peace. I have not felt brave, strong, patient, or courageous. Yet I have spent much of the last year forced into a posture of waiting or of facing a new challenge that felt daunting. The courage, patience, and peace come from focusing on Him. Author Ann Voskamp says it this way:

“I will focus on Jesus this week,
just Jesus.
The secret of joy is always
matter of focus: a resolute focusing
on the Father, not on the fears.

And when I feel like I can’t touch bottom
is when I touch the depths of God.
If He gave His Son to save me,
will He not give me everything I need?

I will Behold Him everywhere today – and be held.”

Treasures of Darkness

December 14

By Stan Key

I will give you the treasures of darkness… (Isaiah 45:3).

One year ago, it was today
(Or was it ten? It’s hard to say);
A surgeon’s knife, a tragic stroke,
It seemed our lives went up in smoke.
We thought perhaps that death had won;
But the real war had but begun.
How should we then commemorate
The day that ushered in this fate?

It’s not easy to recall
What life was like before the Fall;
When Katy walked and drove and cooked,
And hugged our grand-kids, read a book.
She had her life, I had mine,
Our ministries were doing fine.
Though we were one we lived as two;
We each had separate work to do.

But now life’s different, things have changed,
Our whole world’s been rearranged!
A wheel chair now defines our life;
I’m an appendage of my wife!
I wash her hair and count her pills,
I tie her shoes, pay doctor bills.
I dare not leave her lest she fall,
It seems I’m constantly on call.

At times I want to kick and scream
And wake up from an awful dream.
At other times I bite my lip
And tell myself; “Stan, get a grip.”
If stoic-like I do my work,
I manage not to go berserk!
And duty-bound I do my chore,
And keep self-pity at the door.

Lord, isn’t there another way
To help commemorate this day?

“I thought you’d never ask,” God said,
“Why not praise the Lord instead?
Yes, things have changed and life’s not fair
But I’m still sovereign everywhere.
And in the place where pain abounds
That is precisely where I’m found!
So stop your grumbling and receive
The grace that comes when you believe!”

And so I humbly bowed to pray:
“Give grace, O Lord, help me obey.”

Though my condition hasn’t changed
My inner world’s been rearranged!
I’m learning to receive his grace
And in my pain to see his face.
Yes there are treasures in the night
That bless and fill us with delight.
But we must find them, that’s our task,
He’ll help us if we only ask.

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Celebrating life, courage, and love with family – December 14, 2016

 

One Year

-Written by Anna-

While being acutely aware of the one year mark looming I have felt strong and ready to face it. Yet tonight while (of all things) brushing my teeth I looked up to see tears streaming down my face and there was no stopping them!  Many of the emotions of the last year caught up with me once again and surprised me with their depth! There have been more losses than I can count in the last 12 months of our life as a family. We have shared many of these with you over the last twelve months and we are eternally grateful for your love and prayers through this year. You have been a gift and blessing to our family! 

This is a journey we never asked for or wanted, yet it is one He entrusted to us. Our prayer has been and remains that He would find us faithful of that trust!

One year ago today is a day none of us will forget.

One year ago today we went from the highest of highs (successful surgery with no signs of cancer) to the lowest of lows (a large complete stroke), all within a few hours. None of us could have imagined the journey that awaited us.

There is a fog that surrounds those initial days and yet at the same time a traumatic event brings all of life into sharp focus. You see very clearly the things that matter most in life. In those dark first days we experienced the love of family, friends and even strangers in ways we could never have expected.

  • Cousins who came to sit with Mom after putting their own kids to bed so we could rest.
  • Aunts who cried and prayed with us.
  • Uncles who took night shifts and explained what doctors were saying.
  • Grandfathers who loved and prayed from a distance.
  • Doctors and nurses who fought for Mom.  
  • Friends who drove me home and stayed with me in a very empty house that first night.
  • Friends who brought practical gifts like delicious food, soft blankets, extension cords for charging our phones, a small Christmas tree to decorate the hospital room, etc.
  • Family and friends around the world who prayed so faithfully for us!
  • Strangers in the waiting room who quickly became friends as we each waited on news of loved ones, sharing the good and the bad news of each day.
  • A sweet aide who lovingly washed and dried Moms hair on Christmas day. Due to a drain and 40+ staples in her head, it had been a while and she talked about it for days.
  • A hotel clerk that sweetly and patiently worked with me when I could hardly recall my own name and started crying as I explained that this room was being gifted by friends so we could sleep in a real bed and shower and still be near Mom.
  • Hundreds of e-mails, texts, cards, phone calls from people all over the world letting us know of their love and their prayers
  • And I could continue on…

I recently told my Mom that my only wish for Christmas is that it not be spent in the Neuro ICU! Truer words have never been spoken! And yet, in a way that only a God who takes on flesh and enters the world as a baby in a manger can do, last Christmas felt more real than any we have ever experienced. Her hospital room became like a stable. Immanuel, God with us!

Life is forever changed, there are many losses to grieve, many victories to celebrate, many obstacles still to overcome, and yet I find myself asking Jesus to help me remember those dark days. I want to remember the way we loved each other. I want to remember the way we were loved by others! I want to remember so I can praise Him for all the answers to prayer we have seen! And there are many! 

But most of all I want to remember because on the darkest day of our lives, Jesus was THERE! Isn’t that the message/miracle of Christmas? God came near! I have been taught and have taught that fact my whole life, but on December 14, 2015 I experienced it! It is something I don’t ever want to forget!

I close with the words from an old hymn that my Dad used in opening this blog a year ago.

William Cowper“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

We have been the recipients of His blessings and His amazing grace this past year. And as we look back we see His smiling face even in the midst of the pain.

Words fall short as we humbly thank the Lord for sparing Mom’s life! 

Words also fall short as we humbly thank you for walking with us through the last year. You have been the hands and feet of Jesus and have allowed us to see His smiling face through your love and prayers!

We know that we are not alone in experiencing pain, grief and loss this year! It is part of life this side of heaven. But whatever it is He has entrusted you with our prayer for you is the same as our prayer for ourselves.  May we be willing to know Him, not only in His resurrection power, but also in the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming more and more like Him (Phil. 3:10).