Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Part 6 - The Heart of a Father

One day as I lay in my bed in the Special Care Unit at Shepherd Center, my dad came to visit me. Although he spent many hours with me during my stay, I remember this particular moment clearly, like a snapshot in time. He was standing on my right side looking down at me. I suppose we chatted about this & that, all nondescript things I have long since forgotten. Then, out of the blue, he said something that I will never forget - something that, to me, would forever define true love.

My father looked down upon me & said, "If only I could change places with you & climb into that bed & be paralyzed so you could be healed, I would."

Well, of course I argued with him saying, "Daddy, no! I wouldn't want that!" He replied, "Yes, but I'm old & I've lived my life. You deserve a chance to live yours, too." I said, "Well, thank you, but I wouldn't want you to be paralyzed."

That was the whole conversation. At the time, it was what it was - my Daddy showing, in a moment of vulnerability, how helpless he felt that he couldn't help his hurting baby. Since then, however, the Lord has shown me the true depth & importance of my father's words.

"If only I could change places with you...I would."

That is the definition of true love - thinking not of oneself, but only longing to do whatever necessary to give the very best to the other.

That is the heart of a good father.

That is the heart of God.

My daddy looked down & saw my life -my hopes, my dreams, my future - shattered by that awful paralysis, &, out of his love, wanted desperately to fix give me back my life. I knew he meant it when he said he'd trade places with me. If he could have, he would have done it in a heartbeat, but he couldn't.

But that is true love.

That is the Father's love.

That love that my Daddy felt & expressed for me is the same love that God has for all of His children. God created each of us & gave us the greatest gift anyone can ever give - free will. Just as I chose to use my free will to make the stupid choices that caused me to be paralyzed, all mankind has made the stupid choices that have brought sin & death into God's perfect world. What God created good, man used his gift of free will to mess up. Yet God still loves us.

When my daddy looked down & saw my broken body, he didn't think about my poor choices. All he thought was, "If only I could change places with you...I would." It's the same way with God. He looked down & saw his children laying in our beds of paralyzing sin - sin that held us back from being everything He created us to be - & he said, "If only I could change places with you...I would." But where my daddy couldn't do it, God could & DID do it in the form of Jesus Christ. God sent His own Son to come into this world & pay the price of our sin so that we could choose to walk that we could have hope, dreams & a future. Jesus took our judgment upon Himself. Out of His true love, He sacrificed Himself on the cross, said, "It is finished," & surrendered His life for us. He climbed into our beds of paralyzing sin so that, if we accept His gift, we can get up & walk in the fullness of life with God.

That is the heart of the Good Father.

That is True Love.

If you have never made a personal choice to accept God's gift of love, why not take a moment to do so right now. Maybe you've never heard of God's gift before. Maybe nobody ever told you that each of us has to individually - personally - accept God's love through Jesus for us. Maybe you accepted it once, but you've crawled back into that sin-bed. Maybe you've just been holding God at arms length lately & need to reconnect. Maybe you're not sure about any of this, but you just don't like where life's got you now. Wherever you are, God's love is waiting. He's a daddy who sees you just the way you are & loves you anyway. He's a daddy who is holding out His hand, ready to help you up & teach you & guide you through a life with Him.

It's simple, really. Just say something like, "Jesus, thank you for your gift. I need it. I accept it. Please help me."

If you accepted God's gift, please let me know. I'd love to rejoice with you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Part 5 - A Time for Giving Thanks

A few weeks before my accident, I spent a Saturday night at my dad’s house. When I awoke Sunday morning, I found Daddy & his wife dressed up as though they were going to work – suit & tie for him, dress for her. At first, I thought I’d had a Rip Van Winkle moment & slept straight through ‘till Monday. I asked them what was going on & they said they had decided to go check out the church right outside their subdivision. I was surprised because, except for weddings & funerals, my father hadn’t been in church in years. He wasn’t an unbeliever, he just didn’t attend church. I was thrilled that they were going! I loved the Lord &, as I mentioned earlier, He had been drawing me back to church, too. (I didn’t actually recognize the similarities in Daddy’s & my situations until months later, but I was still thrilled they were going.) Well, they must have liked the church because they joined it on the Sunday before my accident. That would prove to be very much a “God thing”.

The folks from that church – Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville, GA - became such an integral part of my family’s life & of my story. As I’ve mentioned, God tried to warn me to stay away from the accident, but He knew I wouldn’t, & because of that fact, He knew we would all need the people of that church very much. They continually exemplified the LOVE WALK of a Christian in so many ways.

My first contact with the Harp’s congregation (that I remember) came at Thanksgiving. My accident occurred just 5 days before Thanksgiving Day, & I was transferred to Shepherd Center the day before Thanksgiving. Now for those of you reading this from outside the USA who don’t know about Thanksgiving, it is a national holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. It was originally set aside as a day of prayer, remembrance &, well, giving thanks. In my experience, it has, however, transitioned into a day for family & friends to gather & eat WAY, WAY too much food – usually a turkey dinner – & watch a lot of football on TV.

Needless to say, holiday meal plans were no longer at the top of my family’s priorities. Well, God took care of that for my dad & his wife & stepchildren. When they arrived home from Shepherd on Wednesday evening, they found a complete Thanksgiving dinner waiting for them at their front door, anonymously given by one of the family’s in their new church – the church they had only joined 10 days earlier. The meal even included a big teddy bear for me & an unsigned card filled with love & prayers.

Thanksgiving was just the beginning of all the blessings given to us through the people of Harp’s. They faithfully mailed me so many cards that my hospital room wall was literally covered in them. The Single Adult group came to visit me & I gained a few close girlfriends out of that group. They prayed, prepared meals, visited, sent gifts & so much more. They didn’t even know us, but they loved on us with the heart of Christ – a servant’s heart.

There were two couples in particular that practically “adopted” me, if you will. The first was Kay & David. They had recently lost they’re only child – a daughter. She had been born with Spina Bifida, but died as a teenager, so they really understood what it was like to live with a disability . Kay & David visited me often, even ringing in the New Year with me. They gave me a special breath-operated phone so that I could make calls unassisted & a talking clock so I would know how soon my next body rotation or the morning would arrive, as I often lay awake in the dark. Those gifts were indescribably valuable to me. Kay & David were wonderful friends!

The other couple was Vance & Judy. They became my “spiritual parents”. Their story is such an integral part of my life that I will write about it in it’s very own post.

Harp’s Crossing’s pastor, Dennis Watson, became one of my regular visitors & dearest friends. He came almost daily at first &, later, at least weekly. He prayed with me, listened to me, talked to me, encouraged me, laughed with me & even cried with me. My dad told me Dennis mentioned me in nearly every service for all the months I was at Shepherd, reminding everyone to continue praying. He was the first person to have a dream about my healing. There have been several by now, but his was the first. He dreamed that I walked into the church pushing my wheelchair in front of me. If he didn’t truly have faith for my healing, he did a great job of faking it! Dennis was even the first Elder to “officially” pray for my healing from a biblical perspective:
James 5:14 – 16 (NIV) “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
Several years ago, the Lord gave me the verse Psalm 27:13 as what I call my “rock scripture” – the scripture that He wants me to always stand on & put faith in no matter what. It says:
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (NIV)
I believe in God’s provision for healing & I KNOW that I will be whole someday. I can’t wait to walk up to Dennis, thank him & show him the fruit of his “prayer of faith”!

Harp’s Crossing was by no means the only church to offer my family care, prayer & love. I know there were MANY. My sister’s priest, Joel, brought me Communion on Christmas Day. My grandmother’s church in California prayed, sent cards, etc. I received visits from the church in which I’d grown up. The list goes on. I’m certain that there are many other stories of the wonderful acts of kindness given to my family by various churches that I will not know until I’m Home with the Lord. I am grateful to them all & to the countless others who were not affiliated with any particular church, but allowed God to use them as well.

God knew & provided for our need before it even existed. That is the heart of a good father. More on the “good father” later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Part 4 - Tests, Test & More Tests

First, thank you for giving me the time I needed to not look back. That time & the warm sunshine we've been having (68 degrees F in February!) have brought me to where I can continue writing about my journey.

When I left off in Part 3, I was describing my time spent in the Special Care Unit at Shepherd Center. I spent about a week & a half in the Unit while my body was being stabilized for surgery. During that time, I underwent several tests - all of the usual pre-surgery things including blood work, x-rays, CAT scans & a myelogram. Some of these were no big deal, but others....

The Blood Work

As I said earlier, I was injured in 1986. This was at the height of the AIDS scare in the USA. Only a year previous, actor Rock Hudson had died from AIDS & the young hemophiliac, Ryan White had been ban from school for having the disease because people believed that his classmates could catch it through casual contact. It was a crazy time of unknowing, uncertainty & fear. Because of this, my family wanted to donate blood specifically for my use during surgery. I know that my father, a very regular blood donor, & my sister did donate blood (& perhaps others, as well). They were not allowed to donate for my direct use, however, because the Red Cross had, also a year earlier, begun HIV screening of all blood. The medical staff assured us that the blood I received would be safe, which it obviously was.

During this whole blood testing/donating thing, my blood typing had to be done to insure my receiving the right blood. When my results came back, my father just KNEW they were wrong & made them retest it 3 times! You see, my father was O Positive, & he was certain that I, therefore, must also be O Positive. Problem was, my results were A Positive. He couldn't for the life of him believe that my results were accurate - not until my sister piped in that she, too, had A Positive. It seems that it never occurred to my dad that maybe, just maybe, my MOM had something to do with our genetics! Boy, for a girl like me who actually spent several years thinking I was adopted because I couldn't find many early baby pictures of myself, this was not funny. Then I remembered that my dad, who could do almost everything well, had dropped out of pre-med in favor of economics in college because he had flunked biology! It was one of those rare "You were wro-ong!" moments that kids long for.

The CAT (CT) Scan

When I was first injured, my mom brought a teddy bear of mine from home to "keep me company". His name was Baby Bear, as in Goldilocks & the Three Bears. He was about a foot long & dressed in his PJs & I slept with him at home. Yes, I was 23 & still slept with a stuffed animal. Besides, Baby Bear wasn't just a stuffed animal, he was my friend. :-) Anyway, I think she brought him because it was all she could think to do to comfort me. There was her baby, broken, hurting & dealing with a life-changing trauma & she couldn't fix it. She couldn't "kiss it & make it better". All she could do was try to give me comfort, so she brought Baby Bear. What a terrible feeling for a mother (or father)!

Well, Baby Bear became quite a symbol for me. He started a gift trend that would prove epic, but more on that in another post. He also became very popular among the medical staff. They talked to him, always placed him beside me after my every-two-hour turns & even sent him with me for my CT scan. That's right! Baby Bear lay on my chest while I was wheeled into the big CT tube for imaging. I never saw those images & always wondered if his insides showed up because I always knew his heart must be extremely large for his little body.

The Myelogram

In a word, this test SUCKED!!! Please forgive my terminology, but to say it was "horrible" or "very unpleasant", wouldn't come anywhere near explaining how awful it was! For years, I thought it was an angeogram &, who knows, maybe it was. I'm calling it a myelogram because in my Googling on both, the myelogram description fits what they did to me. I may not have inherited my father’s blood type, but I definitely inherited his Biology ability (only I squeaked by with a D), so I could be wrong. All I know is that it HURT!

What ever the test was, let's just say it's never a good sign when you find your doctor/surgeon waiting to "lend a hand" with the "simple" procedure. (Thanks to Google, I now know why...& I'm glad I didn't back then.) In order to perform the test, the traction I was wearing had to be disconnected. Those tongs & traction were literally the only thing holding my head on straight & preventing further injury. It was Dr. Apple's (not the same Dr. Apple from Lifeflight) job to hold my head & neck still. (I guess the Orthopedic Surgeon & Chief of Staff is the only one paid enough for that job. One slip & I could have ended up on a ventilator or worse.) But that fear wasn't the worst of it.

To perform the test, a contract dye had to be inserted into my spine before x-rays could be taken. Here's the thing. Since I'm paralyzed from bout 3" below my shoulders & down, I have little or no feeling in about 95% of my body. With no feeling, needles mean nothing to pain, no fear...UNLESS someone wants to stick a needle in the other 5%, which is exactly what they wanted to do. They had to insert a needle into my neck, while I was lying on my back, in order to get the dye to my spine. This was a "direct puncture" procedure. Dr. Apple gave me the usually song-and-dance of, "This may sting a little," but that was an extreme understatement. As I said earlier, it didn't sting, it HURT!!! As soon as they punctured my neck on the right, the left side burned like touching a hot coal. If you've every turned your head suddenly & felt a burn inside your neck, take that feeling & ramp it up about 1000 times & you might be getting close. Very unpleasant indeed.

Fortunately, this test is rarely used today because it has been replaced with MRIs. I've never had an MRI because they weren't used in 1986. In fact, my sister brought the January or February issue of National Geographic to Shepherd to show me because the cover story was about MRIs, including the cover photo of a spinal cord MRI. It was extremely cool.

Well, now that I have grossed out the squeamish among you & reminded myself why I hate going to the doctor, I’ll sign off. More soon. Thanks for reading & commenting!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Looking Back

I haven't written anything in almost a week. I don't know exactly why. I just haven't felt like "looking back". Looking back can be a great thing. It helps us to see how far we've come in life. When I look back & remember my immaturity, my lack, my foolishness of youth - of which there was much - and then compare it to my life now, it creates in me an attitude of gratitude. I can see in hindsight how God has used all of my pains & mistakes to grow me into the woman I have become & I am grateful. I can also see in hindsight how blessed a life I've truly had. Yes, looking back can bring great joy.

Sometimes, however, looking back simply reminds us of what we've lost. This backwards journey is a dangerous slippery slope for anyone. If we allow ourselves to walk through that door of self-pity, we are asking for trouble. If we entertain those thoughts of loss - of regrets - we will fast spin into a downward spiral of useless misery. I don't often feel this way, but sometimes it does happen & when I see those bright yellow DANGER signs, I stop looking back. That's where I've been this week.

You see, 7 years ago this past week I lost my father to cancer. Well, I didn't exactly LOSE him. I know exactly where he is - rejoicing in the presence of the King of Glory - but he's not here with me anymore where I can talk to him & see him & touch him & share my life with him.....& I miss him. Most of the time I'm OK with his being gone. Of course I grieved in the beginning & I have had moments of sadness since, but I have reached that stage in life where I understand that death is a part of life. As long as I know the person has a relationship with Jesus, I know that when they die they are home & that I will see them again someday.

I have faced the death of a lot of loved ones in my life, & I have grown to accept the peace God offers us at times like that. I don't even always remember the anniversaries of those times anymore - at least not always right on the day. I don' know why this year has been different. Maybe it's because I've been stirring up all the memories of my accident. My dad WAS such an important part of that time. In fact, he was my rock. He encouraged me & believed in me & supported me in so many ways!

Of course, he always did. He was my Champion. He was my knight in shining armor. He wasn't a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination & he knew it. But I was blessed to have a daddy who always wanted me, always helped me, always forgave me & always loved me. Daddy is the one person in all my life who I have never - not for an instant - doubted his love for me. That is a special bond that transcends time & distance. As it should be, I have a new Champion now - my husband, Jerry, who Daddy loved & highly approved. But even though he has passed the baton & gone home, I know Daddy still keeps watch over us as he sings praises to the King, plays his trumpet in worship & dances with joy!

Thank you, God, for giving me the blessing of my daddy, even if the time was far too short. You, as always, made the perfect choice! I miss you Daddy & I will love you always!

Please give me a few days & I'll get back to writing about my soon as I know the slope is no longer slippery. Thank you.