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.

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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).

 

In Everything Give Thanks

(Although Thanksgiving is over, allow me to share some of my blessings this Thanksgiving season)

At Thanksgiving our thoughts turn to giving thanks. There is a verse in the Bible about giving thanks that has always been a bit hard for me to swallow, “In everything give thanks.” It’s one of those verses that has provoked me to want to say,”God, you can’t be serious.” I have often tried to twist the words or their meaning so I could interpret it differently.

However, since my stroke, I have had a different response to this idea of giving thanks in everything.

Perhaps God is commanding us to do something that He knows will help bring healing. Perhaps the best thing about thanksgiving is that the focus is not on me. In order to give thanks, or even feel thankful, my focus must turn outside myself, to someone for whom or to whom I am grateful. Perhaps this is one reason for the verse in scripture that tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, for all things. Perhaps this is more a prescription for our own health and well-being, since gratitude can be a sort of spiritual and emotional therapy.

So I would like to express thanks here. If “faith is focus,” as my brother once wisely said to me, my faith will be strengthened by focusing on the blessings of my circumstances! I would like to name a few things for which I am thankful in this Thanksgiving season of 2016:

  1. I am thankful it is Thanksgiving 2016 after my surgeries/stroke instead of 2015 before these health traumas.
  2. I am thankful I am about to come to the end of my first year post stroke (December 14)
  3. Though slow, I choose to be grateful for the progress that His grace and strength have made possible this year.
  4. IMG_0258I am eternally grateful for the chance to live longer in order to love longer the very ones who have loved me through this journey, of whom my husband is the first. When I stop to think what we have learned to do together, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he has been with me all the way. In 11 months of this journey through dark, deep, uncharted waters, He has never left my side. I thank God for my husband who took his vows seriously, to love in sickness and in health.
  5. I am thankful for the good hard laughs we have shared, more than ever in our married life.
  6. I am grateful that, through God’s power, I have been able to embrace the humiliations of this new normal for me.
  7. I am thankful for God’s mercies in allowing me to see another Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  8. I am grateful for the miracle of being present at the birth of my grandson and img_2126namesake Josiah and for the opportunity to love on and be a part of my grandchildren’s lives.
  9. I am grateful for all the times I cried out to the Lord for help and He sent a person, whether a medical professional or aide, a family member, care-givers at home, new and old friends, therapists who brought the perfect skill sets to my places of need.
  10. I’m thankful for my children and their many expressions of love to me in meeting my needs as they have arisen through these months. I am thankful for their genuine prayers and their belief in me through the darkest of days in this journey.
  11. I thank God that I have never suffered boredom, even in months of disability.
  12. I thank God for a friend who baked pumpkin pie and spice cookies for me during Thanksgiving. And for her sweet and talented daughter who has helped to redecorate my home with new ideas and new seasons.
  13. I thank God for Becky, who takes me on outings and errands. No errand is too small, no outing too big.
  14. I am thankful to the Lord for His unimaginable provision for our financial needs.
  15. I am thankful for the faithful support of friends from our past church, and from the Chinese church of Niskayuna, NY! We have been able to pay medical bills, purchase equipment for a handicapped lifestyle, pay for services of others to meet physical needs. This has all made it possible for Stan to even continue working and traveling.
  16. I am thankful for the healing of my scalp and the regrowth of hair after two surgeries.
  17. I am so grateful for the many visitors I have had from near and far. Two of the more recent ones have been the Collins and the Mackeys. The Collins were a huge source of encouragement and inspiration to us as they understand our reality in ways that few can. And what joy to see the Mackeys even if only briefly. I am grateful for both these families.
  18. I am thankful that one year after my stroke I can sit, stand even take steps with minimal assistance. 11 months ago just sitting and holding my head up felt like Mt Everest.
  19. I am grateful for those dear friends who saw a need before I was even out of the hospital and gifted me with an iPad that has made life so much easier as I can no longer type on my computer.
  20. And most of all I am thankful to the One who entered into the mess of this world as a baby in order to redeem us! The One who willingly took on flesh and understands suffering, loss, and pain. The One who never leaves us or forsakes us! Immanuel, God with us!

…and a little child will lead them.

-Written by Katy-

One of the most moving parts of this journey has been the prayers of children who have followed this blog and my progress. One of the saddest parts for me has been that, in spite of their earnest prayers for Wilson (my left arm) and Wilma (my left leg) to come fully alive again, they have not yet. There is a measure of disappointment for them and for me.

However, I am realizing that truly God’s ways are not our ways. His healing comes in unexpected ways and times. However misguided and idealistic it might have been, I have always felt deep down that someday, I would just begin walking again and moving my arm, because these are normal actions that I have done for 60 plus years. So I kept waiting for my body to return to the way it was, to normal, but it has not happened like this. Instead, I have had to relearn (and am continuing to relearn) how to swallow, walk, move, even crawl all over again, like a little child. When I walk now with a cane, I have to be conscious of everything involved in taking a step. You can often hear me saying aloud as I take a step,”lean on the left, move the right.” When I stand, I must make sure my feet are squarely under me,shoulder width apart and be conscious of my left foot not slipping out, causing me to fall. Injury by a fall, either broken bones or dislocation of joints is a very real concern and would be a serious setback for me. Therefore I do what I’m told. And what I used to do without thinking, I now do with intense concentration and as much perseverance as I can muster.

I have to admit I’m tired of working so hard to regain something as natural as walking. I have had to accept that my body and my lifestyle have changed and with that change comes the discipline of relearning how to do life differently. I’ve been doing physical therapy for almost a year and I want to be done, but I’m not. I am once again learning to embrace God’s ways and times over my own, all the while still trusting God for restoration of mobility and independence once again. Sometimes we have to make conscious deliberate efforts to arrive at the place where certain actions can be unconscious. So while healing hasn’t come in a dramatic way of walking or playing piano again, there is an endurance and perseverance that is being strengthened in me as I wait and work in hope.

I am so thankful for those who have persevered in prayer for me so that I would have the perseverance to continue to relearn what is necessary. Your prayers have given me strength to keep on working and believing that He is answering all of our prayers even if not in the way and time we expected or wanted. While there are many, I am especially thankful for David and Sarah in Chicago; James and Joseph from upstate NY; Luke and Sarah from Gabon, West Africa; Katherine, Elizabeth and Mark from upstate NY; Ransom from Indiana, to my great nieces and nephews and my own grandchildren! God has heard the prayers of his children from Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, France, GA, KY, etc. Thank you to all of those kids, big and little, who have not stopped praying that God would heal me. I want you to know He is hearing and answering in His time and in His way.

Thank you. I will never forget your faith and perseverance on my behalf.

Prayers from Grandchildren

 

Birthdays

-Written by Katy (edited by Anna) –

Sunday, October 23 was my birthday, my 64th birthday. At times along this journey I wondered if I would live to see it, but here I am! Since my birthday was on a Sunday,we found ourselves at church. We go to a small white country church and since it is a small congregation my birthday was recognized. Instead of singing Happy Birthday, I requested an old hymn, And are we yet alive? (see hymn below) It was written by Charles Wesley and sung by early American Methodist pastors, many of them circuit riders, at their annual meetings. The lives of circuit riders were anything but easy. Living on the road, riding on horseback through all kinds of weather, exposure to the elements, sickness, and dangers on the road…this was not an easy or safe life. Yet their impact is not to be underestimated as they shared the Gospel throughout the colonies. Many of these preachers died at a young age but those preachers who did survive to see another year would sing this hymn when they gathered.

So this past Sunday, Mt Zion Methodist church sang this song as a way of celebrating the mercies of God in seeing me through this difficult year. It helps put life in perspective. It helps me remember that were it not for God’s great mercies, we would all be consumed.

A phrase I am hearing over and over again is “Ya never know!” and how true this is as we live with increasing uncertainties and anxiety as we look at our world, our nation and our children’s future. As we get older and experience more of the world’s brokenness and watch evil prosper, trusting God through it all is not easy. My prayer is that I can declare with an honest heart the reality that the Psalmist found in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold…When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply UNTIL I entered the sanctuary of God…Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

___________________

And are we yet alive?

1. And are we yet alive,
and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!

2. Preserved by power divine
to full salvation here,
again in Jesus’ praise we join,
and in his sight appear.

3. What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!

4. Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.

5. Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.

6. Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so we may Jesus gain.

(The United Methodist Hymnal Number 553, Text: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788, Music: Johann G. Nageli; arr. by Lowell Mason, Tune: DENNIS, Meter: SM)