Living in an RV has its way of making life interesting, sometimes in awkward ways. One of those ways is that I don't have a sewage hook up where I'm living and so I head out to my local McDonald's every morning to get coffee and to use their facilities.
Months ago, when I first started my daily ritual, I met a group of "older men" (when I say "older", I mean "older than me". One of my McDonald's buddies read this and gave me a hard time for calling them "older" hahaha I thought I better clarify) who meet up for coffee before they head off to their day. Some are contractors, some farmers, some retired, some I don't know what they do - but they are obviously friends who enjoy their morning visits.
Trading friendly and sometimes witty (and mostly hilarious!) salutations with them has become one of the best parts of my day.
I have learned the names of 2 of my buddies, maybe 3, and today they asked me my name, but that really doesn't matter. We talk and laugh anyways. No names needed.
They may not know how much it means to me to get such a great start to my work days.
I have been asking God "what is my message?" and he answered with this:
Eph 3:20-21 (NIV) "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen"
What does that mean? How is that my message?
That phrase says it all - "to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine". Let that sink in. Able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. The Good News Translation says "able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of"
I don't know about you, but I can think of a lot! Yet we are told that Jesus can do more than we can ever ask for or even think of! That's amazing!
Why would that be my message? Because I am an eye-witness to this truth. When I got sick in 2010 and wasn't expected to survive, there were people all over the world praying for me to survive that devastating illness. I had been diagnosed with a double-whammy of encephalitis and sepsis. Either illness can kill or leave a person permanently disabled.
As people prayed, they asked for my survival - but God, who is able to do immeasurably more than we ever ask for or even think of, did so much more! I know that, as I lingered in a coma, I was somewhere in that space between life and death. The doctors didn't think I was going to make it. My test results weren't giving them any reason to think I would make it.
"Immeasurably more than we can ever ask for or even think of".
There were dangers that I was unaware or, or at least unaware of just how much danger there was, for me in Gaza. I believe that God used this illness as a means of escape and then restored me to full health - physically and mentally.
It wasn't God's will for me to be harmed in Gaza at the hands of the his enemies nor was it his will for me to die from a devastating illness.
Have faith when you pray - and be bold. Whatever you ask for or even think of, know that God is able to do immeasurably more!
I listened to a sermon this morning that was exactly what I needed.
For a long time I have been plagued with doubts and insecurities over the mistakes I have made in my life. Some of my mistakes have been of little consequence but some of them have been doozies.
How could God still use me and even want me after what I've done? This morning, my wifi was finally working well enough to listen to a sermon by Dr. Erwin Lutzer of the Moody Bible Church in Chicago. He spoke about the fact that our mistakes do not render us beyond God's reach and use - AND BLESSINGS!!
As I lay in bed and listened and reflected on the message, I found hope returning to my heart and mind. God has used and blessed SO many who have gone before me who have also made colossal mistakes!
He is not deterred by our human frailty. That is not to say that there are no consequences that we must live with due to some of the mistakes we make but God is able to weave them into our story and still make make a way for us to be a blessing!
If you haven't heard of Dr. Lutzer, I encourage you to look him up. I first heard him when I was about 12 or 14 years old at a youth conference in Ontario. It was then that I heard of his book called "Failure: the backdoor to success". What a profound message of hope that book is!!
He is a prolific writer and has a strong message of grace and hope that is so desperately needed for those of us who find ourselves seeming much more imperfect than others.
We can find so much comfort in the fact that God used David for great things - even being in the human lineage of Jesus! And that was after David committed adultery and murder. He repented and God restored him.
My own mistakes are no less devastating than David's and so I can believe that if God went on to use David to be such a blessing, then I am not too far gone to be used greatly by God as well.
The grace of God is deeper, wider and more profound than we could ever imagine.
Take heart, my friend. as one who has been saved by the precious blood of Jesus, God has promised that you will always be held in His hands and never ever be discarded, even though the world may discard us. God takes us by the hand and lifts us to our feet again and calls us His own.
This has been a painful few months and I haven't been ready to talk about it. I can now but I still can't believe it.
In September of last year, my mom started to exhibit symptoms that suggested that something was going wrong neurologically. She was forgetful, emotional and was having trouble processing information.
My sisters and I were getting quite concerned when we added up everything and so got mom to go see a doctor. He was given her list of unusual symptoms as well as our heightened concern and sent her for an CT scan.
The scan came back suggesting that mom had a brain tumour and further investigation led to a diagnosis of GBM - glioblastoma. Stage 4 brain cancer.
We were stunned. How could this be happening to our otherwise healthy, active mom?
She was sent to a neurosurgeon who hospitalized her and had her ready and waiting for surgery.
After her surgery the surgeon was extremely pleased with her outcome! He said that she made it look easy. She came through the surgery and bounced back almost to how she was before everything started happening.
The plan was that she would then get 3 weeks of radiation treatments to get the rest of the tumour that the surgery had to leave behind.
Mom had been told that without surgery, she could expect to have "weeks" but with surgery, she would at least have "months" plus more options for treatment.
She opted for the surgery, She had plans to celebrate 6o years of marriage to my dad and had a number of growing great grandchildren that she wanted to have more time with.
The surgery had gone so well that I really thought that the worst was behind us and by the time "months" had passed, we would have time to find an effective treatment for her.
Before her radiation treatments even started, we noticed, not only a return of symptoms but also worsening. Another MRI was done but I was not made aware of the result at the time.
I work full time, Monday to Friday so I would spend every weekend with my parents. My oldest sister cared for them during the week so while I was with them on weekends, it gave her a chance to get a break.
She was off work at the time and so didn't have to worry about missing work.
Mom struggled with the radiation treatments but she kept smiling and remained optimistic through it all. We would talk and laugh and enjoy our weekends together.
From the end of September (when the tumour was discovered) through to the later part of November, I firmly believed that we just had to get through this rough part and then mom would get better and we would face whatever came in the coming months.
Although she was getting radiation treatments, she continued to become weaker, but I thought that was due to the treatment and that she would feel better once the course of treatment was complete.
I spent the weekend of Nov 16-18 with my parents as had become our new normal. We talked and laughed and made "to do" lists. I was determined not to cry in front of her. She didn't need the burden of my grief while she was still alive, plus, as hard as it was to see her struggling with this illness and treatment, I still thought that soon the worst would be over and she would be on her way back to health.
When I was back at home that week I was told that mom's appointment with the doctor didn't go so well. The radiation treatments weren't helping and her tumour had regrown almost as if it had never been removed. I was frantic. How could this be?
That was a Wednesday and I was heading back to my parents' place on Friday November 23rd, after work anyways. I had not been given any updates on mom's condition except that she had accepted the doctor's update and decided to decline further treatment.
I wasn't prepared for how much she had declined in that week. I had seen her when I left for work the previous Monday and when I got there on Friday, she was bedridden and needed a LOT of support to move around at all. When I saw her that Friday, I finally understood that she wasn't going to make it. The disease had gotten the upper hand. I asked my sisters when this extreme decline happened and they told me it had happened shortly after her appointment with the doctor but they hadn't wanted to tell me. Hadn't wanted to tell me? I needed to know!
During this time, I started listening to a Christmas album I had by For King and Country. The music soothed my agonized heart and soul. Songs of Hope. Songs of Jesus' purpose for coming to earth to save us and heal us.
I barely left mom's side that weekend. She knew that her illness would end with her slipping into a coma and then passing into the presence of her Lord in Heaven, so she kept asking me if she was in a coma yet. I had been in a coma years before, and so I would tell her that, although she wasn't yet there, when she was, she would feel the deeply peaceful, very real presence of God. I assured her that when that time came, she would know she was ok.
She seemed satisfied with my answer each time but it was also evident that she was wishing she was there already. She could feel the tumour and often asked me to press against the side of her head, putting counter-pressure against the tumour to relieve the pain it was causing. I put my hands on her head, told her I loved her and prayed that God would let her suffering end soon but grateful for every minute that I still had with her.
At one point, she asked, "Why doesn't God want me?", not understanding why she was still alive and suffering rather than being in Heaven yet. Her question broke my heart and I told her "No no no, He wants you but in the Bible we are promised that our mansion is being prepared for us. Yours isn't quite ready yet but it almost is. They're just rounding up a few more pictures of your grandkids and greatgrandkids so your mansion will be perfect and you'll love it! Then He'll take you there." I had to choke back tears as I told her, knowing she would soon be there and so knowing that soon she'd be gone.
But her peace of mind was so much more important to me than my breaking heart and so I gave her the comfort I knew she needed.
On Saturday, November 24, my sisters and I were keeping busy at our parents' place when my niece's daughter came up to me and told me about a letter she'd written at school. She told me that the kids at school were giving her a hard time about it and so I asked her to explain it to me.
She told me that she had written a letter to Santa, asking him to make Christmas come early because her great-grandma would die soon and she wanted her it to make to Christmas, but the only way that could happen is if Christmas came early.
I told my sisters about the letter and we said, "Why not? Let's do it!" and we rushed to the grocery story at about 11pm that night and quickly bought everything we'd need to make a Christmas dinner for the whole family the next day.
We put up mom's favourite Christmas decorations, filling her room with lights and beauty. By this time, she was no longer able to get out of bed but she could see the decorations and loved them. Mom always loved Christmas so we told her that she had made it to Christmas. We played Christmas music and after a wonderful turkey dinner, the whole family gathered around mom's bed and we all sang Christmas carols. Each of us setting aside our own grief so that we could give mom one last beautiful Christmas celebration.
She hummed along with the music and hugged everyone. Mom LOVED babies ever since she was a young girl and she had a special place in her heart for every new baby that was born into our family. As she lay in her bed, she said, "Somebody bring me a baby" and one of the many babies present was laid in her arms.
Finally the evening ended, the dishes were cleaned up. I stayed over that night as I had been doing for several weekends and left for work the next day.
I hugged and kissed mom and said that I had to go to work but that I'd come back after work.
That day was the first day of training for a new girl at work and I was the one training her. Because of that, I wasn't able to check my phone for messages until we took our lunch break.
There was a message on my phone that was an hour old. It was from my brother and he just said that I should call Elizabeth (my oldest sister) because mom was having difficulty breathing.
The message was an hour old and it would take almost an hour for me to drive from work to my parents' home.
I immediately called my sister and she told me that mom's breathing was very laboured and that it wouldn't be long. My heart pounded and my breath caught in my throat. I just remember hanging up my phone, turning to the doctor I work for and simply saying, "I have to go", and I ran out.
It was pouring rain that day and visibility wasn't great. I got on the freeway and started out driving quickly, while trying not to go too fast. I cried out, "Wait for me mom, please!" but then I would say to myself, "You can't ask her to wait. You know she needs to go, she wants to go. You have to let her go". Then my tears would blind me and I'd cry out again, "Please just wait! I'll be there soon".
Then I looked at the road and the weather and had to slow down. My kids were losing their grandmother that day. It would be cruel of me to risk ending up in a ditch - or worse - on the same day that my kids already had to deal with more than they could bear.
I spent that whole drive speeding up, slowing down, praying for my mom to wait, reminding myself that she needed to go. It seemed like it was taking way too long for me to get to mom's side.
When I arrived at my parents' home (they lived in the basement suite of my oldest sister's home), it was such a surreal moment. I opened the door, my nephew (niece's husband) greeted me silently. Without saying a word, he just waved me through so I ran past him. Upstairs, my brother in law was playing the piano with such flourish, such grandiose style. It was music fitting for such a solemn, holy time as this. As I ran around the corner to mom's room, I suddenly saw that her room was full of family. My kids weren't there yet but there were many of us there. I just ran in, reached out for mom's hand and held it tight.
I slid in right beside her and whispered in her ear, "It's ok, mom, I'm here now. I love you. You can go. It's ok." I bowed my head, trying not to cry, then I looked at mom's face.
The look in her eyes told me she was seeing another place, another world. She was no longer aware of the world where her body lay. She gasped and took 2 more breaths after I took her hand, and then she was gone.
She had waited for me.
My aunt took me aside later and told me that they thought mom had already gone. It had seemed that she had already taken her last breaths, and then I got there and she took 2 more breaths.
In my grief and pain, God gave me a beautiful picture of that brief final moment I had with my mom...….
"As her earthly vessel bumped against the shore of Eternity, the King smiled and stretched out His hand.
"Look!", He said, pointing behind her. In that moment of hesitation, I slipped my hand in hers and squeezed gently.
"It's ok, mom, I'm here now. I love you. You can go. It's ok."
I dropped my head, never letting go of her hand.
As soon as I finished speaking, she turned to face the King and stepped forward into His warm embrace.
"Welcome home, my child", He said. "Well done. Enter into your rest."
I miss her with every beat of my heart but am comforted with knowing that she is healthy and pain-free as she walks with her family and friends and others who have gone before her and lives in the physical presence of the Almighty God.
One of my grandsons was waiting for her there, so when she said (and I KNOW she did!)
"Somebody give me a baby", the baby given to her was her precious greatgrandson.
When I was in a coma, I was aware of myself. I can’t tell you how much of the time I was aware because, well, I was in a coma.
I don’t know if I should call them dreams, visions or hallucinations but I prefer dreams or visions because they all had the same focus – my comfort and peace of mind. It was like God was reassuring me all through it that He had me – no matter the situation.
One thing I remember vividly is “seeing” myself laying in a hospital bed (I always saw myself laying in a hospital bed, completely incapacitated) and as I looked around me, I saw that I was in a room that had a staircase going upstairs. The walls around me were rich oak with frosted bevelled glass windows. The stairs had a fancy brass railing so I guessed that I was either on a yacht or in a mansion. Either way, I could see that I was in a very nice place.
I could hear people talking upstairs and, by the acoustics, it seemed that the room upstairs was a very large, open space with quite a large group up there. I could even hear their discussion. They were discussing where to allocate funding. From the nature of their discussion, it was apparent that this group wasn’t the slightest bit concerned with meeting a budget, they just determined how much money was needed for a given project and then directed that the funds be sent.
The conversation went on and on and I realized that there was no limit to this group’s resources – they just needed to make sure that each project was sent enough. All the projects they were discussing were humanitarian in nature – meeting the needs of people everywhere. The chairperson would ask the group members to bring up a project they were in touch with and the group members would speak up, explaining the project and how much was needed. There were projects like floods and famines and anything that left people in dire straits. After each speaker finished, the chairperson would say to someone (the treasurer, I guess) to make sure that the funding that was needed was sent.
As I lay there looking around and listening (all I was capable of) I realized that these people were also taking care of me. Even though I had no idea why I was stuck in a hospital bed, completely unable to do anything, I knew I’d be ok. I was in the care of people whose compassion matched their resources.
I remember being so comforted by this knowledge that I just went back to sleep. The funny part was that everyone in the upstairs room had Filipino accents. (My only explanation for that is that I love that accent and find it very friendly and comforting)
Another time, I saw myself in my hospital bed (and I always saw myself from my own point of view, not from outside my body) and I didn’t understand where I was or why but I saw through my open door that there was a lottery booth out in the hallway. As soon as I saw this, I relaxed back into my bed and thought “oh good – at least I’m in BC” (where I actually live except I was in hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel)
As I tried to see out into the hallway, I saw a young man mopping the floor. He kept mopping back and forth and I’d see him every time he’d pass my open door. Each time, he would look at me and just nod and keep going.
I felt safe, knowing he was keeping an eye on me. I knew I’d be ok
One more is that I saw a thing hanging on my wall. It was a box with what looks like sticks jumbled in it. After looking at it for a while, I figured out that it was one of those games that you shook and tried to get the sticks to make words.
But I was stuck in my hospital bed, unable to move, so I realized that if I closed my eyes and shook my head, the sticks would move. I closed my eyes tightly and shook my head and then opened my eyes and quickly looked at the box to see what it said. Every time I did this, I’d open my eyes to find a different encouraging messages! Things like “You’ll be ok!” “Everything will be alright” “Don’t worry”, etc. Each message would relax and reassure me.
It felt like it was God sending me messages to give me peace of mind and courage. Even though I always saw myself as completely incapacitated in a hospital bed, and I never knew what had happened to put me there, I never once felt afraid or panicked, always calm and peaceful, knowing that no matter what had caused “this”, I would be ok
As much as I encourage you to open new and challenging opportunities in life by having a default answer of “Yes”, I must also raise the caution of the cost of saying yes. In other words, there is much wisdom in counting the cost, in understanding – or at least being willing to accept – what consequences we might face, as a result of that Yes.
This is a crucial step in our journey through whatever that Yes brings us. If, after weighing the cost, you decide you are willing to pay it, proceed. If not, choose something else to say yes to.
Before I left for my first visit to the Gaza Strip, I explained to my children that not everyone who goes there comes back. The risk to my life was real and yet, my purpose for going was worth the risk. How else was I to bear witness to the truth?
At that point, I had no idea what lay ahead, but I knew, weighed, and accepted that it could cost me my life. It could have cost my children their mother; but to walk our path with integrity may mean that such risks must be faced, and it may mean that we walk a shorter and more solitary path than expected.
When I was struck by illness, I didn’t die. Instead, my brain and body were ravaged and left helpless. I woke up from the coma to find that the only things I was capable of doing were thinking, seeing, hearing, tasting and feeling – but no movement at all. My physical and mental abilities to speak were greatly hindered.
After being awake for some time and regaining movement in my arms, I found myself contemplating some of the more practical aspects of my condition. I couldn’t get up to go to the toilet, couldn’t even make it to a commode. Now what?
I slowly moved my hand to my body and discovered that I was wearing a diaper. I had been a healthy, active 45 year old woman and now, I was wearing a diaper. And that wasn’t the worst part. I didn’t have enough strength to do anything for myself so I had to call a nurse every time I needed to be changed.
I thought that was humiliating enough. I knew that the fact that I had come from Gaza put me in a position to possibly be discriminated against by some of the Israeli staff. (There was just one nurse that I was sure of. Everyone else was very professional and treated me well regardless of what they may have thought)
My first goal was to be capable of changing my own diaper. It was difficult, tiring and time consuming, but I was determined.
It was then that I discovered heartache on top of my humiliation. When I reached down to clean myself, I found that my skin felt like tree bark; thick, rough and hard.
Even though the man who called himself my husband was there and kept posting on Facebook about his undying love and diligent care of me, I realized that neither he, nor the nurses had provided me with the personal care I needed. I learned that he kept telling the nurses not to worry because he was taking care of me.
No one had brushed my hair. I finally had to ask a nurse to cut out the impossible snarl at the back of my head. I kept hearing this man repeatedly telling the nurses not to do anything for me because he would. But he didn’t.
When I needed help taking a shower, he told me that his feelings would be hurt if I asked for help so I waited. Finally I had to ask for help. The nurse on duty was the one nurse who made it clear that she didn’t think much of me. She pushed my wheelchair into the shower stall and hosed me down like I was a farm animal tied to a fence. I wasn’t yet able to raise my arms to cover my face so all I could do was sit there naked, sputtering and trying to turn my head while she pointed the hose straight at me.
More humiliation and more helplessness.
He kept telling me not to get help from any nurse for my next shower because he would help me and he kept telling the nurses not to worry about helping me – but I found out later that he was off “making a new friend” instead.
I sat on my bed, willing my arms back to life. I still couldn’t fully raise them but I didn’t need to. All I needed was for my fingertips to reach across the top of my head. Once I achieved that, I took my first shower alone. It took over an hour, left me completely exhausted so that I slept for hours once I got back to my room – BUT I was happy and proud of my huge accomplishment!
Does “yes” require a price? Yes. Sometimes that price is easy, but sometimes it’s hard.
Sacrifice isn’t a reason to say no, but it is a reason to stop and think.
I don’t regret my yes. Count the cost, so you can boldly embrace yours.
ck here to edit.
I watched a movie today about 22 year old Susannah Cahalan who was stricken with a rare autoimmune illness called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Watching the depiction of this young woman suffering the nightmare of being stolen away by this illness brought back painful memories for me. I did not have the same form of encephalitis that she had, but in 2010, I did suffer from a nasty bout of encephalitis, although the doctors were not able to decisively determine which kind of the illness I had. One big difference between Susannah’s experience and mine is that, while she suffered a slower, steady encroachment of this illness while doctors struggled to figure out what was attacking her, my pre-hospitalization period was brief but also traumatic, and happened while I was in the Gaza Strip.
I had gone to Gaza for the third time in August 2010. I wanted to be there for a few reasons; I had met online in 2001 and then married in 2009 (in Gaza) a man who I believed to be who he portrayed himself to be; I was deeply interested in knowing and understanding more about the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbours in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; I loved to learn about and experience other cultures and this was my chance to really do so; and I wanted to make a difference for the children there so I organized a child-focused delegation of people who also wanted to go.
When I was purchasing my airplane tickets, the travel agent asked me if I wanted to purchase medical insurance. I laughed and explained that travel insurance very specifically states that it will not cover any injuries due to war or to terrorist actions. Because of my destination, and my current state of good health, I really believed that my only risk was from activities that the insurance wouldn’t cover anyways, so I declined coverage.
I landed in Cairo, excited and eager to continue with the next leg of my journey, but first I had to get our groups’ paperwork in order. This meant finding a translator to translate all of our letters from English to Arabic, taking everything to the appropriate government office to confirm the approval that I had been given weeks earlier by phone, and then getting everyone onto a bus that would take us from Cairo, through the Sinai to the small border town of Al Arish, Egypt and from there, to the Rafah border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, by taxi.
I had made this trip twice before but had never been the organizer. I had observed the process on my prior trip so felt comfortable enough with the steps to proceed on my own. Everything was in order. Or so I thought.
When we got to the Rafah border, the border guard started telling me we had to go back to Cairo because of some problem with our paperwork. My translator, Ayman, was nervous about arguing with the border guard but I pressed him to explain that our paperwork was, indeed, in order and that the border guard needed to confirm that without sending us all the way back to Cairo, which is approximately a 6 hour trip back through the Sinai. That would delay our entry to Gaza by at least a few days, days that we were not willing to waste on unnecessary red tape. I knew I had everything that was required and I also knew that it was common for Egyptian officials to interrupt people attempting to travel to the Gaza Strip.
My translator reluctantly relayed my replies until the border guard called his office in the border terminal and we were finally granted entry.
(to be continued)
Everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page in the story of your life. You can not choose the circumstances which surround the events of your life, but you always have a choice with your responses, your mindset, the development of your skill-sets and the people you surround yourself with. Choose to believe in you!
Remember, you have something special, you have GREATNESS within you
I just had my 35 year grad reunion. It was an event that was so full of love, it was amazing.
Being me, I had to write about it to express my thoughts and feelings. Here is what I wrote:
Seeing you all again has really touched me, so much so that I need to say this:
When I was growing up, we moved a lot. I started out at Carleton School where I was classmates with some of you. Then I moved. A few times.
I came to Killarney in 1979, in time to start grade 10. By then, I didn’t know that I knew anybody. I was starting a new school – again. And I felt so alone, again. Then I started noticing familiar faces. I had been out of the loop for years and I had learned not to get too attached to people because we were just going to move again. I did move again, right after grade 12. And I continued to move, never quite feeling like I had one place to call home.
Throughout the years, I have experienced things that I really needed to have friends to call on, but didn’t know that I had those friends. When I was recovering from my illness and brain injury that went with it, I was so vulnerable and afraid. I pushed through it.
Last Thursday, I suddenly got very nervous about going to the reunion. I was afraid I’d be alone in a room of people who didn’t remember me, to be honest. My whole life has been a continuous series of “passing through”. I told my daughter to make sure I went lol She’s a good kid and made sure I got to the reunion.
Then I walked in the room and saw familiar faces, friendly faces, inviting faces. As the night wore on and we talked and laughed and caught up, it was a feeling of true connection that has been such a rarity for me, but felt like an oasis in what has too often been a parched desert. My daughter even texted me on Saturday night to make sure I was having a good time. I assured her that I was having a GREAT time!
Having old friends gives life a depth; a solid and safe harbour, so that we know that no matter where we roam, we always have a place to come home to. Seeing all your beautiful faces has given me that and I can’t thank you enough.
I know we’re all busy and have busy lives, but I do hope we can plan yearly events, at least, and whoever can come will and whoever can’t, will come next time.
If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that YOU, those old friends we grow up with, are some of life’s finest treasures.
I am so grateful to have connected with you again.
And so it begins......
This is the first installment of my very personal story. This is, by no means, all of the story or even a large part of it. But I have to start somewhere.........
It’s time for some raw vulnerability. Without it, I believe I will always run into mental and emotional blocks in life.
My reason for writing this is to allow room for healing; to stop being afraid; to bare my soul in the hopes that someone will read this and say “I thought I was the only one” and so start on her own path to freedom and healing.
I have been reading a book called Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz. It was given to me as a gift from Focus on the Family. Although Marilyn and I have lived very different lives, we were both suffocated under the weight of shame – a shame that Jesus came to free us from, but the enemy kept convincing us that the shame is ours to carry, to be smothered by; a shame that means we will never be good enough as long as we live.
I’m taking you back to the 80’s, when I was still married to the father of my first 4 children. We were active members in our local church. What nobody saw was how we struggled in private. I’m not going to say much about him because he too, is a child of God and therefore not mine to judge.
In the 9 years we were married, I never once felt that I was in his heart, never felt that he was in love with me, never felt cherished. Even when he proposed, it was only after I had suggested that we need to figure out what we’re doing in our relationship; that maybe we should break up in we didn’t want to move forward. That was the moment when he proposed. I was shocked because I was expecting a conversation, not a proposal, but I accepted, believing that he couldn’t bear the thought of losing me.
Perhaps in that moment, that is what he was thinking but I’ll never know. A few years later he told our pastor that he felt that I had forced him to marry me, effectively extinguishing any romantic notions I might have told myself about how much he wanted me.
I longed to be noticed, to be loved and protected. I kept hearing how God shelters us in the “shadow of His wing” and that marriage is a representation of the relationship between God and His people. My marriage was no such symbol of love. I was painfully lonely.
I thought that having children would endear me to my husband. Our first child was born on my husband’s birthday! From my hospital bed, I sent my mom off to buy my husband a sweatshirt for his birthday and have it embroidered with the message “I’m Zack’s daddy”. I was sure that such a sweet thoughtful gift would stir up love towards me. He loved the sweatshirt and wore it until it was worn out – but a few years later, he told that same pastor that I had rushed him into having children before he was ready. Again, my fault. Again, extinguishing any romantic notions of any loving thoughts I thought he might have been having towards me.
I began to break down. It happened slowly (though not very slowly) and under the stress of the day to day so I didn’t know I was breaking. I kept trying to get his attention. He wasn’t willing to give it. I was no longer hoping he would love me but just that I would matter enough that he would notice the details of my life.
During my second pregnancy, my husband began renovating our house. I was excited to see how it would look once it was done! The day I went into labour, he wanted to buy the supplies to make the fireplace mantle so we were at the lumber yard. I kept telling him that I needed to go home as I stopped every few minutes to breathe through another contraction. His reply was always that walking is good for me, and we kept hunting for the perfect piece of wood to go above the fireplace. Even the salesman was getting worried for me but we kept walking around the lumber yard until we found what we’d come for. My husband kept asking for my opinion of different pieces of wood but I was in so much pain that I really didn’t care. I just wanted to go home.
Once we got home, he continued working on the fireplace. He had stacked our couches and chairs in the dining area to give him room to work. The only chair for me to sit on was a hard wooden kitchen chair. My contractions were coming closer and closer together. He kept working on the fireplace. Finally, I asked him to get me something more comfortable to sit on but he informed me that everything was stacked and out of the way. I lost my cool and demanded that he put one of the couches down for me. Finally he did and I was able to find a more comfortable position to sit.
Because I had been induced with my first child, I didn’t know what to expect from natural labour so I called the hospital to ask a nurse. She told me that labour could take hours but that I should come to the hospital whenever I feel too uncomfortable to stay at home. When I got off the phone, my husband asked me what the nurse had said so I told him. He looked at his watch and said “Good” and went back to the fireplace. I protested and explained that she had also said that I should go to the hospital whenever I felt I needed to, but he responded with “a few hours” and walked away.
I made my way downstairs to where my parents lived, pausing every couple of minutes due to ongoing contractions. My parents saw how much distress I was in and asked why Brent wasn’t taking me to the hospital yet. I explained what the nurse had said and his response to it and shrugged, in tears. My dad blurted out that if Brent wasn’t going to take me to the hospital then he would, because it was obvious that I needed to go.
I quieted my dad and told him that I would go tell Brent again, that I was sure he would take me (although not really being sure at all). I went back upstairs and told my husband that if he wouldn’t take me to the hospital then my dad would – either way, I had to go NOW. He finally offered to take me and told me “just a minute”. I was relieved! He was going to take care of me!
I went back downstairs and told my parents not to worry because Brent was going to take me to the hospital. My parents then asked me where he was if we were supposed to be leaving right away. I listened for any sound of him upstairs but heard nothing, so I dragged myself back up the stairs and looked around. Nothing. I was at a loss when I confessed to my parents that I didn’t know where he was. They were just as puzzled. We all looked around, calling his name, but couldn’t find him. Finally, my dad went outside and found Brent cleaning out the old wheelbarrow he had been using for concrete. My dad was shocked and angry. My husband’s reply was that the nurse said I had a few hours and the wheelbarrow needed to be cleaned.
My dad offered to clean the wheelbarrow and insisted that I be taken to the hospital immediately.
Our drive was painful but we finally got there. I was rushed in and given a room to finish out my labour and delivery. He was there with me and suddenly I had a strong and painful contraction. I reached out and grabbed the only thing within range – the front pockets of his jeans. I held on and breathed to get through the pain.
He looked down at me and exclaimed “What are you doing??” and grabbed my hands, pulling them off him and pushing them back towards me. I was crushed but had to get through my contraction before I could answer although no words could make their way through my heartbreak and disappointment. What did it look like I was doing? I was in the process of giving birth to his child!
Four hours after my labour had started, our beautiful baby girl was born! Life was good.
About a week later, something was amiss. She seemed to have a cold or some kind of respiratory trouble. I called a doctor to come to our home because I couldn’t get to a doctor and her symptoms were worrying me. The doctor said she was fine but that I should just keep an eye on her. Over the following weeks, she got progressively worse. Her bouts of coughing became more frequent and closer together, then her coughing fits would be followed with her choking. Then her choking fits would happen without her coughing first. Then her choking fits became silent so I wouldn’t even know unless I was looking at her.
All this time I just kept resuscitating her and taking her back to doctors who would assure me she was fine and that her inability to properly clear her airway was just due to her being a newborn and not a real cause for concern. I didn’t believe that but no one would take a closer look at her.
My new routine was to care for my 2 year old son and resuscitate my baby all day until that was my new “normal”. Again, I went back to the doctor. Again he told me she was fine and to just take her home. Again she got worse. That was a Wednesday. By Friday she went into a choking spell and, try as I might, I could not clear her airway. I kept trying, flipping her on her tummy against my leg for delicate back blows then laying her on the floor to give her mouth to mouth. I couldn’t get air into her body and I couldn’t push out the phantom that was bent on choking the life out of her.
I was on the floor trying over and over – back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her, back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her….. no response. Her colour was getting worse as she lay lifeless on the floor in front of my. I kept looking up at the phone, hoping I could will it to call 911 for me at the same time being sure that if I left her to go make the call, I would come back to a dead baby. I was frantic.
She had been fighting this phantom since she was a week old. I had tried everything within my power to help her but now we were at the end. She was so tiny and fragile. How could I demand that she keep fighting when no one was coming to help us? I scooped up her lifeless little body in my hands and walked on my knees over to the couch where I gently laid her down.
I told her that she didn’t need to keep fighting. I told her she’d done such a good job and she’d been braver than I could have asked for but I knew she was tired now. I told her I wouldn’t ask her to fight any more. I sat back on my feet and looked at my sweet angel who by now had not breathed for several minutes. I honestly had no idea how much time had passed. It felt like a very long time and I knew that her brain could not survive prolonged oxygen deprivation. As all these thoughts were racing through my mind, suddenly another thought came roaring in like a freight train – “NOOOOOOOOO I CAN’T LET YOU DIE!” so I tried again to resuscitate her but to no avail. I put my hands on the couch beside her body and cried out in a shaky voice “Jesus, PLEASE make my baby breathe!”
Suddenly – and I mean IMMEDIATELY – I saw her tiny chest rise. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me so I held my breath and watched carefully. She took another breath! In that moment, the words from Genesis 2:7 popped into my mind “(God) breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life” and I knew that God had done it again right there in front of me. I picked up my daughter and made sure she was breathing and responsive, then I called 911. The firemen and ambulance came and they all agreed that she was fine and that I should just take her to the hospital myself if it happened again.
I was so happy and relieved that my baby was still alive but also sure that as much as we’d been given a reprieve, it was time to act. My husband was convinced that the danger had passed and there was no need to go to the hospital that night. I was convinced that if I closed my eyes for a second, I would open them to find that she was gone. I spent that night with my baby girl right in front of my face to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
The next morning, I insisted we take her to the doctor again so we did. As before, the doctor told me that she was fine and that I should just take her home. He did say that if I was still worried about her on Monday (it was Saturday) that I could bring her back to see my regular doctor. His words hit me like a slap in the face. Monday?? By Monday she would be dead. Today was the day she needed to be hospitalized. I burst out crying. Not weary tears, no. I was a gushing fountain of gasping, choking tears and frantic ranting. I recounted to the doctor her journey for the past few weeks (she was 4 weeks old by this time) and told him about calling 911 the night before, told him I hadn’t slept because I was afraid she’d die if I closed my eyes. All the while I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The doctor softened and put his hand on my arm and said “I can see that you’re tired and you need to sleep. How about if we put her in the hospital for the night so you can go home and sleep?”
I didn’t care that he had just insulted me. I didn’t care that he still didn’t believe that she was sick and dying because I had heard him utter those magic words – she was going to be admitted to the hospital!
I caught my breath and nodded, totally unable to speak. I picked up my daughter and my husband and I got in the car and drove to the hospital.
As I was sitting with a nurse answering questions for Celeste’s admission, she suddenly had a very loud, very ugly choking spell. I got her through it and turned back to the nurse who was sitting with a horrified look on her face. “WHAT WAS THAT??” she exclaimed. “THAT is what I’ve been telling doctors about for weeks now! THAT is why we’re here!” I replied.
The nurse’s simple reply gave me such great comfort “You have a very sick baby”
FINALLY!! Someone else saw it and believed me! She would finally get the help she so desperately needed.
The nurses hooked up several different monitors and sat her up in a cuddle seat because every time they laid her down, her oxygen level would drop down and she struggled to breathe. She had a monitor to track the level of oxygen in her blood, a monitor to measure her breathing, a heart monitor as well as an IV in her head to rehydrate her.
It didn’t take long before her alarms started ringing and 5 nurses came running to her bedside. One operated the suction, one watched the monitor screens and the others helped to resuscitate my baby and get her stable again. I stood back and watched, frozen as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
As they were leaving the room, one by one they passed me and each of them paused and looked me in the eye with such deep compassion. They touched my arm gently and asked me “Did you see what we just had to do? How on earth were you able to do this at home?” All I could do was shake my head and mumble “I just didn’t want her to die”
After a few initial choking spells, the nurses had their routine worked out and they assured me that they would take good care of her. I could see they were telling me the truth.
However, I had been on such high alert for so long by that time that I didn’t know how to back down. I needed more assurance. I was exhausted and broken but relieved that my baby was finally in good hands that would give her more than I had been able to.
The nurses told me that I could go home and sleep and come back whenever I was ready, but that I needed to sleep. They were right. I was so grateful for the way they were taking care of me too.
I was almost ready to calm down and go sleep when my husband walked up to me, standing very close, making him tower over me – “You stay here and keep an eye on them” he commanded. My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t leave – no matter how badly I needed some rest, no matter that my 2 year old son was at home – I had to stay.
When I told the nurses I was staying, they got me a bed but were visibly upset that I was not able to go home for a bit of respite after everything that I had been through with my daughter. They were more than capable of taking over for me, at least for a time, but I wasn’t going anywhere.
I slept in her room almost every night. The guilt was piling up on top of my trauma. When I was at the hospital, I felt that I should be home with my son. When I was home with my son, I felt that I should be at the hospital with my daughter. There was no right place for me to be, only wrong places. No peace and rest, only guilt and anguish.
After a month, much of it in ICU care, Celeste was discharged from the hospital. My sweet baby was alive and well. A well experienced pediatrician diagnosed her with a bad case of Pertussis (whooping cough). I also learned that because Pertussis had been all but wiped out prior to this, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar when I showed up with a sick baby. After Celeste’s hospitalization, I learned that there were several more cases of Pertussis in the following weeks, much to everyone’s surprise.
The doctor warned me that, due to the fact that this illness was very hard on Celeste’s lungs, I should expect her to be hospitalized for about a week out of every month for the next year. It sounded a bit overwhelming until I asked him “But she’ll be ok, right?” He assured me she was definitely out of danger but would just need medical support to get her through those expected periods of respiratory illness. His news suddenly didn’t sound bad at all. I smiled and told him that would be no problem at all. I would watch for any difficulties and bring her back. Everything was going to be okay after all.
It was 2 whole months before she showed any signs of cold-like symptoms but my reaction caught me off guard. I rushed to the hospital with her and when they were asking me to describe her situation, I was stammering and stumbling over my words and crying. I remember saying “You said that I should bring her back if she gets sick again! She’s sick again!” I was in full panic mode and they saw it and graciously admitted her as promised.
As I was sitting by her bed, the head nurse on the children’s ward came to see me and asked if we could talk in her office. I followed her and we sat down close to each other. She started “You have done such an amazing job taking care of Celeste. There is no doubt that she wouldn’t have survived if you hadn’t done what you did. You’ve take very good care of her”
I sat and listened, gratefully soaking up her affirmation. Then she continued “After taking such good care of your baby, I have to ask you – Who’s taking care of you?” I was startled by her question and looked up at her, unable to speak right away. Then I started to cry and shook my head. She was so kind. She listened as I cried and explained my marriage and home life, my guilt and anguish. She encouraged me and urged me to find someone to talk to.
Once Celeste got through her week of needing a bit of extra help, we went home and life went on.
Linda blends warmth, wisdom and humour into every presentation. Enjoy the ride!