"25 stinking seconds...". In all my frustration and angst, I just kept repeating those words to my husband through my tears. I think many of us have experienced this. It only takes a moment to feel like your world has been flipped upside down - the quick, sharp pains of a heart attack, the seconds it takes a doctor to tell you it's cancer, the sudden impact of a car accident, a phone call in the middle of the night with horrifying news… this list could go on and on. I know I'm not alone in my heartache, and I certainly don't pretend that mine is equal to any of the above situations. It is, however, very real and heartbreaking for me, and it happened in mere seconds.
"Dawn, you just had a seizure". Of all the word combinations in the English language, I have come to really hate these ones. This summer I was devastated to wake up on a concrete floor with them echoing in my head and a vague sensation that someone was speaking them to me. I've heard them many times before, so it's nothing new, but this time left me broken inside more than any of the others. It hurts more than any of the physical injuries I have sustained over the years - and I have my share of scars from them. The worst was when I was sixteen, just a few days before Christmas. Using something as simple as my hair dryer that morning resulted in burns on my shoulder, neck, face and ear. I was in bandages for three months and am left with scars from the third degree burns on my neck and shoulder.
Eight years ago, laying in a hospital bed having just held my precious newborn who was not even a day in this world, I had experienced my last one. And enough years had passed that I was finally in the place where I thought maybe it really had been my last one. No more waking up on the floor barely coherent and discovering gashes on the bottom of my feet or the pain of rug burn on my back, opening my groggy eyes to find myself at a hospital, strapped to a stretcher, unable to move with a smashed nose and blood in my mouth from my tooth going through my lip, of laying on the concrete, looking up at concerned strangers from a crowded sidewalk, of the horrid realization that I had fallen while six months pregnant, of facing friends, co-workers, roommates and fellow students the day after, or of losing a job and being denied another. No more living in the daily fear of "what if...". No more worries about bathing my newborns, handling hot items, hitting my head on concrete stairs, not getting enough sleep or waking too early, swimming, going anywhere alone, of my young children being present and unable to do anything… No more dealing with the side effects of seizure meds; no more anxieties about what people will think and how they will talk. And the wonderful freedom that came five years ago when I was finally able to get my driver's license for the first time.
Shattered. Broken and feeling back at square one. August 4, 2014 I had been so excited about teaching my first photography class at Valley View Bible Camp - I didn't even make it through the opening that first day. I was told the seizure lasted about 25 seconds. I remember very little from the hours that followed, and I slept the majority of that day and night from the exhaustion of it. I had a bump on my head from where I hit the floor, and I somehow injured my back in the process. Three months later my back still bothers me. So does my heart, though not as fiercely as those first few weeks. I was devastated, and the consequences of those few moments are in front of us every day, especially now that I cannot drive again. All my fears returned in an instant, threatening to paralyze me and clamoring for daily attention.
HOWEVER… yes, there is one of those! And I can probably only see it now because it has been a few months. It is glimpses of the beauty out of the ashes.
My heart is more aware of the things that matter. It is amazing the clarity that comes when you are forced to remember how fragile and fleeting our life and health is.
God. I am most aware of God when I recognize that He is the only One truly in control of my life. I lean less on myself and my own accomplishments when I know this. I am grateful for every breath, for my health, for His love and providence, for His overwhelming grace, and for the giftings He has given me, when I am reminded of how easily anything is stripped away. It is not even mine to begin with, and I cannot grasp onto anything. I more readily step aside, trust, and hold that which is dearest with an open hand, offering to let it go if that is what He asks or requires. I acknowledge once again (it seems I need a lot of reminding!) that who I am and what I do should all be for His glory and praise.
My husband. It is good to be reminded of the treasures we have in our spouses. I can so easily get frustrated with the little things, but at the end of the day, I have been so blessed with a kind and compassionate man who loves me deeply and stepped into relationship with me knowing that to do so also meant carrying a heavy burden because of my medical history. He is at my side, heartbroken along with me. He helps me walk when I have no strength, holds my hair back and gets me a cold cloth when my churning stomach gets the better of me. He sits and listens patiently as I pour out my heart and my agony, even though his own world also feels like it is falling apart. He holds my hand, lets me cry in his arms and gently points me back in the direction of God when I am running the other way. He even sacrifices his free time to drive me around to photo shoots when I can no longer get there on my own... my list of everything he is to me really could go on and on. I'm not sure what I would do without him.
My daughters. I love them to pieces but easily rush through my days hardly stopping for a minute just to really see them, notice them, step inside their hearts, reflect on the beautiful people they are and what they mean to me. How grateful I am that I have the privilege of intimately knowing these souls. How desperately I do not want to take them for granted.
My family and friends. The kindness and love shown to us by choice, freely given. I am overwhelmed by the sweetness of it, the selfless pouring out - a note, a visit, a call, a hug, a meal, a prayer in secret, sincere words of concern, a glance brimming over with compassion when there are no sufficient words, a question that genuinely probes into my own world and heart out of a desire for what is real and true, even if it's brokenness and fumbling for words to explain. Even as I write this there are fresh tears filling my eyes. This is God's love shown through His people, and we have been privileged to see it in abundance.
Hope. I don't know the specifics of what God has in store for me, but I know that it is rich and eternal, and I choose to trust that He is in control and knows exactly what He is doing (even on the days I struggle to trust Him there is something deeper that keeps me anchored to Him in faith and expectation). I hope that He will use my life, including its pain and heartache, to refine me into the woman that He desires me to be, as well as impact those around me and through it all, to somehow bring glory to Him.
I don't say any of this to run past the pain or to suggest that we pretend we are strong, super-spiritual and invincible. There is a great danger of this, especially in church circles. I could not have spoke all these words those first few weeks, and I'm sure I'll have more days yet where I struggle to trust and hope. I believe it is very important for us to feel our pain and recognize when we are hurt, feel betrayed and are even angry with God. Only then can we face pain for what it is, see ourselves for what we are, grow from and through our hardships and come to God in true worship. Even Job, the poster-boy for righteousness and hardships, cried out to God with his unanswered questions. I have wept, screamed, and cursed (yep, even pastors' wives are human!). I have been angry with God, and I have felt betrayed by Him. One of my deepest moments of worship came two days after a seizure. I choked out "Blessed Be Your Name" in barely a whisper as tears flowed down my cheeks. "Blessed be Your name, when I'm found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness... when the darkness closes in, still I will say, blessed be Your name... on the road marked with suffering, though there's pain in the offering, blessed be Your name." That day it was not a feel-good song - it was a heart-wrenching choice to mean the words even though I didn't understand any of the whys.
In John chapter 9 there is a story of a man born blind. Jesus' disciples asked why this man had been born blind, and Jesus answered, "so that the works of God might be displayed in him". Jesus miraculously heals the man, but he did not replace those years he had not been able to see. Life was a lot harsher for the disabled back then. The Bible records that he was a beggar and that others looked down on him. Jesus' disciples had assumed his blindness was the result of sin. Even though he could see, it didn't get any easier after Jesus healed him! The Pharisees "hurled insults at him" and threw him out of the synagogue. His own parents did not stand up for him. However, most wonderfully, he comes to know the Savior and becomes one of his followers. And that was really what mattered - not his past and not his physical sight. Jesus opened the eyes of his heart.
My story is not exactly the same as his, and neither is yours, but my prayer is that the words of Jesus would ring true for our lives as well, "...that the works of God might be displayed." I pray that everything, even the heartache and brokenness, would somehow illuminate the beauties of God; that He would be more clearly visible through them. Maybe He will heal me someday, and maybe He won't. But whatever He chooses, I want Him to be glorified in it, and I want to be changed through it. Perhaps He will even grant me the strength to one day echo some version of the Apostle Paul's words when he says, "we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
For anyone who has broken dreams and ashes in their lives, whatever they look like.... This song speaks to me over and over again - beautiful hope! This whole album is real and incredible and heartbreaking. I cannot listen to it without both weeping and rejoicing!
If you are in the middle of a desert, I would love the privilege of hearing your story and your heart, no matter how broken. Feel free to share. I want to pray for you and lift you up before His throne. Sometimes all we have is the groanings of the Spirit and the prayers of others because we do not have words ourselves. Message me, call me, or email me. If you are close, come by for a visit. If you have come through the wilderness, whether it was days or years, please share your God-story and what He had taught you. I never tire of hearing what He is doing in and through people's lives!