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)

“Yet not my will, but Yours, be done”

-Written by Katy (edited by Elisabeth)

(Update on Stan: Thank you so much for those who have been praying! Though there were some unexpected delays the radiation treatments  are now over and the side effects are subsiding. Thank you for your prayers!)

There is pain and tension in me when I remember the life of freedom I had before the stroke and the losses since. Some ask what it’s like for me now. Here are some things I miss from life before stroke:

I miss…

  1. driving
  2. putting things away, doing dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, or any kind of shopping
  3. enjoying a meal without having to be totally focused on chewing and swallowing, so as not to choke
  4. sleeping on my side
  5. showering alone
  6. doors in the bathroom (we had to remove doors to allow for wheelchair access)
  7. spontaneity
  8. traveling with Stan
  9. my arm and leg (nicknamed Wilson and Wilma). I not only have limited mobility on the left side but I also have limited feeling, this means I often don’t know where my arm and leg even are! I have been tempted to get red and white striped leggings to wear as we are often saying “where’s Wilson, where’s Wilma?!” In retrospect – a better name would have been Waldo!
  10. my church family at LCC in Albany
  11. the Adirondacks this time of year
  12. my life before
  13. going out to eat, to church, or paying visits, even to my father across the street, without the hassle of wheelchairs, ramps, access…..
  14. modesty and privacy
  15. typing
  16. painting my nails
  17. sandals and dressier shoes (I now only wear sneakers due to the need for ankle support as I learn to walk again)
  18. slipping discreetly in and out of places
  19. a complete sense of time and space. Since the stroke I have struggled to remember certain things, like what day of the week it is!
  20. life without taking medications three times a day
  21. holding a book or magazine and turning pages without dropping whatever I’m trying to read. (Yes, I do know I can read online or listen to recordings)
  22. carrying my Purse
  23. feeling good and living pain free
  24. feeling a kiss on my left cheek
  25. holding and carrying my grandchildren
  26. I miss normal!

This recovery has been a long grieving process in which I have repeatedly cycled through stages of grief: denial, shock, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. While they don’t come neatly in order or well defined, it does help to see that these emotions are normal when dealing with any loss.

Acceptance is the one I have returned to the most. Just when I think I’ve accepted this “new normal” another loss comes along, a wave of grief, an unanswered prayer, an unmet need, transition of care, or adjustment of some kind… And then once again I find myself seeking acceptance in my heart. Our lives have been so completely turned upside down by my stroke that it’s very difficult to see any gains in the midst of losses for what God has chosen to allow. Yet I long to accept what God has allowed, and to go even beyond acceptance to the attitude expressed in the writing below – welcoming God’s plan however it unfolds. He’s the scriptwriter, whether I like the script or not. I often find myself quoting The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference 

I struggle to come to peace with and accept my “new normal” – dependence. Its not easy for me to come to terms with this experience being God’s will for me. In living out these losses, its easy to forget His character of compassion, feeling as though He has forsaken me. I have drawn comfort from Lamentation 3:32-33 in helping me come to peace with the tension between what God causes and what He allows:

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

It’s difficult to embrace His will when it’s painful. But, in the end, I realize that He had the power to stop this stroke and still has the power to heal. I must surrender at a deeper level to what He has permitted and what His will is for me now. Can I accept it and still firmly believe He is a God of compassion and mercy, who never leaves me or forsakes me?

The following poem written by Madame Guyon has ministered to me as I wrestle with these questions. Her ‘cage’ was a prison cell, mine is a wheelchair but her words have helped me in coming to a place of deeper surrender. A place where I can say the words that Jesus said in the garden “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” I am believing that the Lord can give me the serenity to accept His will “and in His mighty will to find, The joy, the freedom, of the mind” as the poem says so beautifully.

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.

Naught have I else to do;
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Doth listen to my song: 
He caught and he bound my wandering wing,
But still He bends to hear me sing. 

My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty;
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.

Oh!  It is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose providence I love;
And in His mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom, of the mind.

 

 

Open my eyes that I may see…

Written by: Elisabeth Lind

Josiah was born over 2 months ago and he is an enormous blessing and bright spot in our lives! Yet, it has not been easy. From day one he has struggled to eat and has battled to gain weight and stay hydrated. We have tried lip and tongue tie revisions, chiropractics for some issues in birth, medication for acid reflux, etc… In the midst of this daily battle that has me exhausted, my Dad is currently undergoing radiation and my Mom continues to battle through the daily struggle of a post-stroke life. Ben, Josiah and I were able to be in Kentucky to help and encourage my parents over some of these difficult weeks. As soon as we arrived it felt as though all hell had broken loose. Spiritual warfare is a real thing. Josiah continued to go downhill upon our arrival. He was teetering on dehydration and I was a mess! My Mom got a virus and felt awful! My Dad was facing radiation and then computers were down and his treatments continually got delayed or canceled each day! And, to top it all off, we had a massive sewage leak in the basement that was such a big issue we had to limit bathroom and water use for multiple days! I found myself giving in to the temptation to only see the difficulties and hassles…to allow Satan to blind my eyes to any goodness. I began to wonder if Jesus was there for us at all! And then He gently removed my blinders, convicted me, and reminded me of his MANY blessings and expressions of himself even in these difficult days. I want to chronicle them here to remind myself! And to thank those who have been expressions of Jesus to us in these days!

  1. Mom and Dad have been blessed with beautiful friends and incredible caregivers. I wanted to take a picture of each one but missed my opportunities. Some of these caregivers are hired and some just volunteer and stop by…but ALL of them love Mom so gently and sweetly and care for them regularly! Whether its helping pick up medications, running errands, taking her to therapy, helping around the house, or even cooking with Mom or providing meals…each one is an ENORMOUS blessing and breath of fresh air! Last week, friends even came to our rescue to clean and mend a sewage leak!
  2. I was blessed by two college friends who dropped much of their life for a couple days to offer their hands to hold a baby while I helped my Mom and took care of the house here. Praise God for extra hands!img_2689
  3. In the midst of all the chaos, we were able to carve out a short moment for a dedication service for Josiah. Nine months ago, I honestly didn’t think my Mom or Papa would still be here on earth to even meet Josiah! And here we are, dedicating him to the Lord together! Though it was a short moment, as Papa is very weak, Mom was under the weather, and Josiah is a handful…it happened…and I praise God for that gift to my Mommy heart.
  4. On a little but significant scale, we were able to arrange and organize Mom’s “little corner” in the Living Room to be much more functional for her with a new basket dresser and swivel tray! This encouraged us!img_2726
  5. While Ben and I were there, we were able to cross paths with extended family that we rarely get to see!
  6. God opened the door for Ben to work from Lexington for a few days to make this trip possible at all!

     

“Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Thank you Lord for expressing your love to us in these tangible ways!

 

*Thank you all for your prayers for Dad. Because of delays and cancellations, his treatments have continued through this week. Thanks for your continued prayers.