(ok, now it’s Tuesday … oh well)
After a fabulous little getaway under an hour away with my entire family, I’m back to reality, and it hits like a ton of bricks. I’m not gonna lie, this is rough, and it is a hard pill to swallow…even for an eternal optimist. Months to go in this boot??? Violent pain every morning????? Stomach problems and many unmentionable issues resulting from prolonged use of heavy duty narcotics I have to be on????? (That is the worst catch 22 ever.)
Ok, even in the past month (yes, can you believe it has been over a month?) since my latest setback, it has been easy to feel like this is a strange and unfair nightmare. A sad turn of events. A cruel joke.
God’s kind of hurt my feelings.
And yet God always know how to make me feel better. In my entire over-4-year-ordeal, I have clung to one notion that has comforted my soul. It is the idea that this is being used for good. All of it. No matter how hard and how sad and how painful, people are being inspired, God is being glorified, and I am being used in a way I never could have been used by God otherwise. It makes me feel better.
In the past few weeks, our story has made it into a sermon illustration at three churches (in three different states, no less). Pretty cool.
I was struck by these words of Julie Thompson from my church growing up, the one where I was married almost 8 years ago (First Presbyterian Church, Athens, GA). I hope this brings you some encouragement today, like it did to me.
“Perhaps you know of someone who has suffered a tragic loss and has found new meaning and purpose through it. I think of Katherine Arnold Wolf. Many of you know her story. Katherine grew up in this congregation, and her grandmother Amanda Thompson is still a member. Katherine and her husband Jay were married here in this sanctuary eight years ago.
After graduating from college, they moved to Malibu, California, where Katherine pursued a career in modeling and acting and Jay began law school at Pepperdine University. A couple of years later, Katherine gave birth to their son James. And then in April 2008, when James was six months old, and Katherine was 26, and Jay was just about to graduate from law school, the unthinkable happened. One afternoon, when Jay had unexpectedly come home for lunch, Katherine collapsed on the floor.
After she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, they learned that she had a brain stem stoke, a rupture in her cerebellum called an AVM. A brave surgeon at UCLA performed an extremely difficult 16-hour-long surgery that no one thought she would survive. But after 40 days in ICU, then multiple surgeries, and months of rehab, she has resumed an incredibly normal life. Not just a normal life, a life full of hope and joy and trust in God’s daily provision in the face of difficulty. As part of their healing, Katherine and Jay began a ministry called Hope Heals to share with others how they have experienced God’s presence through this tragic turn of events.
When I briefly met Katherine and Jay almost three years ago, the first Christmas Eve after her stroke, I was struck by how unself-conscious Katherine seems to be about her paralyzed right side, slurred speech and need to walk with a cane. But recently, when I had an opportunity to visit with them for a longer time, I walked away even more amazed and blessed. While Katherine was home visiting her family in Athens a few weeks ago, she had tripped and broken her leg. No worries she said, as we visited in the hospital after her surgery to put a metal rod inside her leg. It was already my “bad leg” she said. She was a ray of sunshine in that hospital bed, and had nurses and friends and family all stopping by to say hello.
What could have been a life of bitterness that asks, “Why me, God?” has instead become a life of joy and gratitude. Every single day, they to point to God, from whom all blessings flow. All along their journey – a journey that has involved a loss of daily activities like speaking, swallowing, seeing, walking, driving and writing they have viewed as an opportunity to draw close to God. When Katherine speaks about her situation to groups around the country, she speaks with the voice of a prophetic preacher.
“What has happened to me is extreme, however it’s similar to what everyone deals with. I couldn’t walk, but who feels free even when they can. My face is messed up. It’s frozen, paralyzed. But who feels beautiful even when they normal? I couldn’t eat, but who feels satisfied even when they can eat? My voice is messed up now, but who feels understood even when they can speak? No one. So no matter the situation, people feel what I am living out. They don’t feel free. They don’t feel satisfied.”
Katherine adds: “When God is all you have, you realize that God is all you ever needed.”