Monday, February 10, 2014

Our Hope Endures

   He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:4) 

I had been a Christian for 4 years when the phone call came-- rattling us awake one Friday night in August 2002.  

The week before, Kevin and I had been blissfully expectant, giddy-- multiple at-home pregnancy tests revealed we were pregnant with our first child.   We were rejoicing.

A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul (Prov 13:19)
I was maybe 6 weeks along and had not told a single person- our plan was to surprise our families within the next few weeks.  We had already purchased a camouflage hat with Best Grandad sewn onto the front of it-- a surprise gift to break the news.  

But the phone call came.  

I only heard the words bad accident,  jeep flipped, serious head injury. 

I wailed and crumpled into Kevin's arms begging and screaming for Jesus to save my 16-year old baby brother, Tyler.

We drove 3 hours south in the early morning hours.  

Uncontrollable sobbing and desperate prayers.  Mile after mile.  We called everyone we knew to pray, disregarding the late hour.

We arrived at my parents' house and my mom said it was useless to go to hospital that night- to wait until morning.  I fell into bed exhausted.

We woke early the next day-- remnants of last night's dinner still on my parents' stove-- crusted spaghetti on pots.  

It took me years before I could eat spaghetti again.

Kevin had to stop every few miles because of morning sickness, as I vomited on the side of the road.  We made a stop for saltine crackers and sprite.  

Such a dichotomy-- a surreal space to inhabit-- new life growing within, 
while my baby brother barely clung to life.  

I did not recognize him.  Wires and tubes.  Bruises and swelling.  Broken bones.  A coma.  

We prayed over him and read from Isaiah.

A doctor told my dad not to expect him to survive the night.  

The doctor was wrong.  Tyler survived and put up a fight to live.  We were incredibly thankful the Lord spared him.

He was eventually transferred to a Brain Injury Rehab Clinic in Atlanta, where he received amazing rehab and treatment.  My parents sat at his bedside daily urging him to open his eyes.  They were displaced from their home (2 hours away) for one year, as they invested in my brother's recovery.

I won't go into every detail of that time, but it involved grueling and intense commitment on the part of my parents and much dedication from my brother.  

The divorce rate is close to 80% for couples caring for children with a brain injury.  By God's grace, my brother was almost fully recovered and my parents marriage was intact a year after his accident.

The whole experience was a time of miracles, God's mercy,  and much celebration.  We were continually amazed at God's provision in every detail of his accident and recovery.  We were incredibly thankful that Tyler had such a sweet spirit-- some brain injured patients have anger or other negative side effects from the brain trauma.  

As always, Tyler had such a precious spirit-- even more so.  Before the accident, he was a normal teenager with some attitude.  After his accident, he had such a spirit of gratefulness. 

They all returned home almost a year after Tyler's accident.  My brother re-entered high school with a teacher's aide, who assisted him with his lessons and getting him to and from classes.  

He was very close to walking on his own-- without his walker.  He was probably 90% recovered-- his biggest struggles were short-term memory loss and the physical aspect of not walking on his own yet.

October 2003 - from left to right- front row my sister, my mom, 
and me with the only grandbabies at the time.  
Back row, my bro-in-law, Tyler (in the blue shirt-standing with assistance), 
my dad, and Kevin

Almost 2 years after his accident, things were going well.  

On one of our visits to my parents' home in 2004, he helped babysit our son, while Kevin and I had a date night.  We woke the next morning to discover Tyler had a Grand Mal seizure in the middle of the night.  Seizures were always a risk because of his brain injury-- he had just been switched to a new medication by his doctor.

He was rushed to the hospital and was later life-flighted to Atlanta.  We were told his liver was shutting down due to some medication complications.  

We were devastated.  My faith was wavering.  

He was almost fully recovered and now we were hearing that he needed a liver transplant.

Another sacrifice occurred, as a young girl took her last breath in another state-- her liver placed in a cooler and carried by helicopter to put inside my brother's body.  

We hoped again.  Prayed again for healing and recovery.  We grieved.  His body did not reject the liver, which was one of the first major things to overcome.  

Now we waited for him to return to himself.

I was pregnant again-- expecting our second child. 

Again, new life growing inside me,
while our hands grasped for life to emerge within my brother.

In 2005, I had my second child.  We were somewhat isolated from community.  We had rough beginnings with both our newborns up to this point-- one was diagnosed as failure to thrive at 6-weeks old and the other was in NICU for a week.  

My dear grandmother suddenly passed away soon after the birth of my firstborn.  It was a loss of another dream-- now that I was a stay-at-home mom and could spend more time with her-- the way she and I had planned.

Kevin also lost his job during this time.  

We went to church when we could, which was often hard with small children and living 30 minutes away.  Life was busy and I didn't adequately take time to grieve or process everything from the past few years or the present sufferings of my parents and brother.  I was numb.  Prayers rarely came.  

Nothing was turning out the way I expected.

As a new Christian, it was easy to celebrate miracles and see God's hand when life had been going well.  It was much harder to worship and seek God when He seemed silent-- when suffering seemed to continue for years.   I isolated myself, which just gave evil more of an opportunity to whisper lies about who I was and who God is.

One of my incorrect (and unbiblical) assumptions during this time was that we were safe from further suffering since we had already endured major events of grief in our lives.   I did not understand why God was allowing so much hardship in our lives.

It only takes 2 seconds to discover suffering upon suffering upon suffering when reading God's word-- chapter after chapter of trials, so I'm not sure why I made this assumption.    Since the Fall, we know we are guaranteed to have difficulties in our lives (John 16:33).  But telling that to a person who is suffering, is not always well received.  I was hurting and needed some deep nurturing that only God (and being in community) could give.

In her song Our Hope Endures, Natalie Grant wrestles with this:  You would think only so much can go wrong; Calamity only strikes once; And you assume that this one has suffered her share; Life will be kinder from here; Oh, but sometimes the sun stays hidden for years; Sometimes the sky rains night after night; When will it clear?

By His grace, I came out of the fog, despair, and isolation and could look back at the years when the sun seemed hidden.  Even though it felt as though He was absent, I know now that was not true of my God-- who is close to the brokenhearted (Psa 34:18).  He was holding me.   

There is nothing we experience that He doesn't understand.  He is empathetic and understanding through every trial and temptation we endure (Heb 5:7).  He came to earth to endure poverty, brokenness, betrayal, deep pain, abuse,  torture-- all suffering on our behalf.  He took the punishment we deserved.  To save us. 

He knows.  He sees.  
Because He experienced the worst of the worst-- 
to redeem and rescue us.

I still fight to trust and believe Romans 8:28, in all of my life.  But now I can look back and know it was true of  my spiritually numb years-- He has and will continue to use it all for good in my life.  He has a way of pursuing us and waking up our hearts again as we heal. 

Ironically, the waking up for me has often come through more times of being in the furnace and suffering.  A refining.  A shaping and molding by my precious Father's gentle hands.

If we believe Paul, then we know our present suffering is beyond comparison with our future glory.  (Rom 8:18).  Our trials are light and momentary  (2 Cor 4:17).

Dan Allender discusses how we deal with pain and suffering in our hearts:   If we refuse to face the damage, the dysfunctional patterns set in motion to handle it will continue to exacerbate the wound....Suffering changes the human heart-- sometimes for good and often for ill.  We are faced with the challenge of learning how to wrestle with sorrow so it can bring about the greatest good.   [1]

Suffering changes the heart-- for good or bad.

One thing I am learning about myself is that I must pray and cry out to the Father for authenticity in the midst of life's hardships.  I can never heal or become spiritually healthy if I isolate or run.  To grow, I have to grieve the places of deep sorrow-- the deserts.  


If I am ignoring sorrow, then I am an impostor in my suffering and I become stuck.  All that deep grief that I didn't take to Jesus all those years ago- it's okay.  Because He was there and knew.  He held me.  I didn't have the strength or willingness to run to Him.  But, He was still on His throne and still with me.

Now I'm at a place where I can look back and grieve.  I can cry out to the Father to move me to a place to embrace the gut-wrenching places and deep aching within my soul-- and ask Him to give me feet that run to Christ with all my mess and hurts.  Over and over again.  Only He can heal and bring beauty from pain.  Only He can bring joy in suffering.

Suffering can allow us the opportunity to embrace all of our story
 and discover who He is creating us to be.  
It is the place our true character is revealed.

The deserts of life are harrowing.  Being held by a tender, compassionate God and knowing Him intimately in His sufferings while in the midst of our own sufferings, can transform us, if our hearts are willing.  

Deserts can be restored with rain; faces redeemed with tears. [2]

Will I become numb again when faced with deep loss and suffering?  Maybe.  But by His grace, if I walk through the wastelands of my life and the rocky places of my heart with openness to the Father, He can lead me to a place of repentance (in my unbelief, worry, isolating myself from others. fear, looking to myself as the rescuer, deadness of heart, etc.), the gift of rest (in His embrace and kindness), joy in His presence, re-engagement (with community), and renewal of my mind (remembering who He is and who I am-- righteous in Christ).

When His spirit is moving and not my flesh, His grace empowers me to do a lot of healthy remembering.  For me, it looks like this:
Remembering who He is.

Remembering who I am.  (If we are believers, we are ALL his favorite son or daughter). 

Remembering this is not my home.

Remembering my salvation story (I posted mine here).  

Remembering His promises.

Remembering times of provision, miracles, and rescue in my own life.

Remembering our stories are still being written.  There is more redemption and suffering to come.

Remembering a whole lot more...that I probably have forgotten. 

It is hard enough to get through a normal day.  And a case can be made for the normal, mundane daily activities of life being a type of suffering.  Because we were not made for this world.  

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.  (C.S. Lewis)

My baby brother never recovered. 

It was suspected that his last seizure caused oxygen loss that effected his brain.  

He never walked or talked again.  

For the 5 years after his liver transplant, he received the best care possible in my parents' home.  A sacrifice of love.  

There are no words to adequately express the effect of seeing my baby brother all those years-- a shell of who he used to be. 

He passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2009.

And I deeply and desperately long for more of Jesus and for Heaven.

Read more of my brother's story here.

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 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. 
(Isa 43:19)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 
 (1Peter 5:10)

Trials... have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(1 Peter 1:7)

1. Dan B. Allender, The Healing Path, (Waterbrook Press, 1999) 15.
2. Allender, 170


Lisa Smith said...

The dichotomy of life and death during your pregnancies is so stark to me. I was always hyper aware of life during pregnancy anyway. I'm so sorry for your loss...your brother and your grandmother. I am thankful we have heaven to regain time lost. xoxo

Lyli @3-D Lessons for Life said...

Melanie, I am linked up after you over at the SDG Gathering this week. I wanted to come back and read your post again tonight -- because there is just so much to chew on here. Your faith story and your vulnerability in sharing it with us is beautiful. Despite it all, you continue to move toward Him and pursue Him -- and that encourages me to do the same on dark days.

A verse that encouraged me during a very dark season was Proverbs 23:18: "There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."