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Say Something… Anything!

I’ve known Jean for just shy of 2 decades, yet in the last 6 months, our relationship has transformed despite the 200 miles that now separate us.  Several years ago, Jean suffered a devastating and unexpected loss, and the woman who remains on this side of widowhood is very different from the married woman I met at church all those years ago.  These days, I can describe Jean with one word: Encourager.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Throughout the long months of my recovery, through various complications and an endless stream of medical disappointments, my friend Jean has sprinkled little words of hope, encouragement, and inspiration.

Recently I thanked her for the way she has ministered to my heart through her words, and she confessed that sometimes she doesn’t “know what to say or how it will come across.”  Yet she never fails to say something… anything… as a way of communicating, “I see you, friend; I hear you.  You are not alone.”

Jean shared with me that it is because of her own suffering that she has learned to be present with others through her words.  These are the things she “learned from grief.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (emphasis added)

It is an interesting reality that through suffering, people draw closer or people fade away.  I learned this lesson at the age of ten.  My mother died of breast cancer when I was in the 5th grade.  Ten-year-olds don’t know how to manage the big work of grief, and some adults don’t know how either.  My best friend, with whose heart my own seemed to share a beat, suddenly disappeared after my mother’s funeral.  Her mother didn’t know how to cope with grief and didn’t know how to teach her daughter to be a friend in the midst of grief.  In the passing of my mother, I also lost my best friend.  Days of silence turned into weeks, weeks into months.  More than 30 years have now passed but not a word between us.  I was the same little girl who loved to roller skate, giggle, swim, and have sleep overs.  I was the same but different.

Nine years ago, I suffered another devastating loss of a loved one.  In the same way as the loss of my mother all those years earlier, I experienced people drawing close and people fading away.  There were two women in my life, at that time, who called me nearly every day.  They understood life and loss enough to realize that I was the same person, but for that season, I was different, and the care they provided could impact the way I managed my grief work.  They understood that I needed intense love and support so that I could work through the complications of loss and come out the other side, the same person but changed.

This season of recovering from medical trauma and the resulting complications, has been similar.  Friends and family have drawn close or faded away.  I am the same person, but I am different.

I still need the women in my life to encourage and inspire my walk with God and my roles as wife, mother, and employee.

I still need my pastor to be my wise counsel and challenge my framework around how God’s word is alive and active in my life (Hebrews 4:12).

I need my siblings to check in and ask the tough personal questions about details that are delicate regarding my health.

I need my co-worker who asks me at least once a week, “How are you really doing today?”

I need the dear grandmotherly woman from church who regularly sends me cards in the mail with Scriptures.

This season has been another reminder to me that my words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21).  One of the many redemptive purposes of suffering is so that I can comfort others with the comfort I have received from Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4).

My words need not be eloquent; if I fret about what to say, I may say nothing at all.  My words need not be my own; I can share an inspirational quote or a verse from God’s word.  My words can be in a text, over the phone, or as I pass someone in the hall.  I just need to say something…. anything!

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24

 

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The wound was about him; the forgiveness was about me.

     The words we hear… It has so much less to do with the words themselves and so much more to do with the relationship between speaker and listener.
     In the early days of my surgery recovery, a man I have known my whole life remarked to me that “Ostomies are gross!”  The words stung, like some sort of parental rejection.  I stiffened at these words.  It felt as though porcupine quills had emerged at the startling threat to my acceptance of this life change.
     The ostomy was not my choice.  The surgical amputation of a third of my colon was the last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  I was left a semicolon.  This is the hand I was dealt.
     Each time his words floated into my awareness, I dismissed them with logic.  I reasoned that he is an inconsiderate extrovert.  I reminded myself that the colectomy was an emergency action taken to restrain the infection assaulting my body.  I comforted myself with the truth that my illness does not define me; who I am is defined in God’s Word.
     I told myself many times that I forgave him for the thoughtless comment.
     Yesterday I learned that he was hospitalized, a portion of his foot was amputated as a last resort to other less invasive failed medical interventions.  My initial thought was one of concern and compassion.  The following thought was snide: “Perhaps I should inform him that four-toed feet are gross!”
     In that moment, I knew that I needed to forgive him.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

     Just as in Christ, God forgave me…
How does God forgive me?

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression…? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19

     So, I understood the course I needed to take.  Pardon of his thoughtlessness.  Forgiveness for his offense.  Mercy in the face of rudeness.  Compassion in the place of impertinence.
     He, the one who caused the wound, is completely unaware of how his words impacted my heart.  He is utterly ignorant of how is words shook my then fragile acceptance of a life-changing medical trauma.
     It was less about the words, and more about who he is in my life.  If the same words were spoken by one of my teenage sons, I would have unpacked their thoughts and feelings with them.  If the same words were spoken by a customer, I would have dismissed it entirely.  It was less about the words, and more about him.
     I forgive you.
Forgiveness: the work of God that has long brought me freedom from emotional wounds.
      I forgive you.
The wound was about him.
     Forgiveness is about me.
Forgiveness is setting my heart aright after it has taken a blow.
Forgiveness is walking the narrow road as a Christ-follower.
Forgiveness is about loosing the bonds that shackle me to the offense.
     I forgive you.
And now my heart feels only sadness that he is facing a life-changing medical trauma of his own.  I wish him courage.  I pray for his healing.  He is forgiven.
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His Gentle Whisper

1 Kings 19: in the immediate wake of a great victory, Elijah was so overcome by fear and exhaustion at the threat to his life that he cried out to God, “I have had enough, Lord… take my life!” (vs 4)  He was ready to be done.

In early July, four months after my  ostomy surgery, I was learning the devastating news about complications we could not have predicted even in a worst-case-scenario discussion.  My best friend uttered the very words of my heart after hearing the diagnosis, “How much more, Lord?”

As days turned into weeks, God was using the wisdom of the doctors and the cocktail of medications to win the battle my body fought against the C-Diff infection.  Severely weakened by the infection and its treatment, each day was a struggle.  As the bacteria was being eradicated from my body, some symptoms resolved and others remained.  The symptoms that lingered became a clear indication of what was happening to my body; it was indeed my liver that was suffering.

My gastroenterologist ordered another CT scan. It was my fourth scan in four months.  The risk of exposure to the radiation was less than the need for imaging of my abdominal organs and the blood supply to each area.

Following the scan, there was a long delay before the doctor came to discuss the results.  She was not supposed to be in the clinic that day; she was seeing me on her lunch break.  My husband and I assumed she had been detained by a morning procedure.

She entered the exam room dressed in scrubs and apologized for both the delay and her appearance.  Neither one were a concern for us; we were simply grateful that she made time to meet us that day.  She explained that her delay was due to the findings on the CT scan and the resulting conversations with my surgeon.  It was not someone else’s bad news that kept her; it was my own.

Over the next hour, she discussed the situation involving my liver, my continued symptoms, and concerns related to me working outside of the home.  In her ever gentle manner, she guided us to understanding what was found and how we needed to move forward.

Another complication.

“How much more, Lord?” 

The CT scan in April discovered the portal vein blood clot, and showed that it was restricting blood flow to the left side of my liver.  The July CT scan discovered that the right side of my liver suffered an infarct; it showed a wedge-shaped piece of the liver had lost complete blood supply and become necrotic.  The belief was that a portion of the blood clot broke off and lodged in the right side of the liver, causing the infarction.

A hepatologist (liver doctor) and a hemotologist (blood doctor) were added to my care team.  The vitamin and mineral supplements I had been taking for years were no longer allowed, to prevent strain on my liver.  Decisions about medications, consumption of foods and beverages, and my activity level will be filtered through their impact to my liver.

1 Kings 19:9-13, “There he (Elijah) went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Throughout these last several months, I’ve learned to listen for the gentle whisper.  If I could borrow this imagery from Scripture, I might compare the ostomy surgery to a great and powerful wind that tore my body apart and shattered life as I knew it.  I might compare the portal vein blood clot to an earthquake and the C-Diff infection to a fire.

Similarly, I can assert that through all of it, the Lord was my protection; He held me safe in the cave of His loving care.  He has kept my heart encouraged and my spirit lifted through His gentle whispers.

On one particularly discouraging day, a former colleague opened instant messaging with me.  Her starting comment spoke to the very need of my heart.  We chatted about my struggle.  She reminded me of the promise from Ephesians 2:10 about the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do, identifying that He wasn’t done with me yet!  God whispered hope through her.

In a quiet moment on a solitary day, as I laid wrapped in a hand-made quilt, I re-read the handwritten label stitched on the underside.  The sweet quilt maker from my church family had written my name and her name and the date of her gift.  Then she wrote, “A quilt is something you make to keep someone you love warm.”  God whispered love through her.

On a day filled with disappointments, I poured out my heart to my sister.  She listened.  She validated the pain and the losses.  Then she shifted my focus to the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  God whispered courage through her.

Every day, through the hugs of my boys and through the endless compassion of my husband, God continues to whisper.  Through His Word, through the hymn writers of ages gone by, through my pastor’s homilies, God continues to whisper.

In my fear or exhaustion, I may question, “How much more, Lord?”  At the end of one battle, I may not feel capable to face the next threat on my life.  Yet through all that has transpired through these last several grueling months, I have felt God sheltering me, and I continue to hear His gentle whisper.  He whispers hope.  He whispers love.  He whispers courage.

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Humbly Grateful

My magical recovery date was April 24th.  The surgeon signed the note; I was allowed to return to work without restrictions the last Monday of April.  This was to be the unfettered day when I would be well again.  April 24th.  I had it written in black and white.

I had progressed from wheelchair to walker, from walker to cane, from cane to hands-free.  I was ready to return to work and re-establish routine in my life.  I was ready to be productive, to create, to invest myself.  I was looking forward to being well.

Oh, how my heart clung to this whisper of hope!  April 24th.  Alas, this was just a date, and when it arrived, I wasn’t miraculously well.  Oh, how disappointment struck when I realized the unreality of my expectations.

Four days after returning to work, I was back in the emergency room.

During that eight hour occupation of the exam room, I had a series of tests, a myriad of labs done during three different collections, two separate ultrasounds, and another CT scan.  As I sat in the room between visiting medical professionals, I kept a running monologue with the Lord.  I honestly had no idea why I was there, but I knew it was exactly where I needed to be.

The night before I had mentioned to my husband that I wasn’t sure what was around the corner, but I knew whatever it was, the Lord would shepherd me through it. I explained to him that twice that day, through two different means, in two very distinct ways, I had encountered Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

The first time I heard Psalm 23 that day, as I listened to our local Christian radio station, I remember feeling deeply touched by the words.  I was moved to tears.    There was a sense within me that I really needed to hear it; I listened intently.

Later that day, as I plodded through a book about how God uses disappointments in our life, I read the author’s interpretation of these verses.  I remember thinking that I needed to grab hold of the meaning of this passage; I had a sense that Psalm 23 was to remain in my awareness. The next day I understood why.

The ER doctor treating me that night returned to the exam room in a solemn manner.  She explained that I had a blood clot that was cutting off the blood supply to the left side of my liver. This was an unintended but not surprising complication of my March illness, surgeries, and extended bed rest.  To every piece of information she shared, I calmly responded, “Okay…”

She tried to impress on me the reality that this was serious.  “Okay…”

She tried to emphasize that this would be a long, involved process of healing.  “Okay…”

She tried to explain that this could result in further complications with my liver or other vital organs.  “Okay…”

Her words of diagnosis and prognosis were received by my quieted heart.  The Lord had already prepared me for that moment.  In His kindness and goodness to me, He reached into my day, before I was aware of what was to come, to remind me that He was already there.

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?”  Psalm 8:4

The God of the universe, who orchestrates all of life everywhere, is still mindful of me.  What a humbling thought!  He reached into the midst of my need and gave me peace.  He had been with me through all of the medical crisis and grueling recovery to that point; I had no doubt He would shepherd me through this too.

Then the doctor explained the treatment.

I could feel the peace of my heart slowly fade as fear, then terror, gripped me.  The doctor explained that I would need to inject myself in the abdomen twice each day until the oral medication was at a therapeutic level.

The issue was that I don’t do needles. I can’t watch phlebotomists draw blood. I can’t look at IV’s going into my arm or hand. I should be desensitized to it at this point in my life, but I’m not. I don’t do needles.

I told the doctor that I could not do it. When she told me the alternative was hospitalization, I asked her how long. She wouldn’t answer me; she was not going to let me wimp out. She told me that I could learn to give myself the injections. I wasn’t so sure.  She excused herself from the room and informed me that the nurse would be in shortly to teach me how to administer the shots.

As I sat alone in the exam room, I told the Lord between tears that though I had been able to adjust to all that a perforated colon had thrown at me… I grieved the colostomy… I learned how to change my ostomy appliance…  I had adjusted countless details of my life that I never expected to be impacted by it… I did not think I could do the treatment for the blood clot.  “This crosses the line!” I cried out to God.

“Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.”  1 Kings 8:28

In that moment of fear and frustration, a gentle peace swept over my heart.

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.”  Isaiah 51:12

God identifies Himself as our comforter. He answered me with peace and reassurance from His word. The verse that flooded into my awareness was one that I often repeated when lap swimming as I pushed my body to swim faster or longer:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I needed my body to do the unthinkable, and I knew that it was outside of the realm of own ability to complete this task.  My fear was paralyzing, but my faith in an all powerful God who loves me with an inexhaustible passion was greater still.  My fear said this treatment was unbearable, but my faith said that He would shepherd me through this.

The nurse entered the room.  With “I can do all things…” repeating in my mind and tears still welling in my eyes, I told the nurse I was ready to learn how to take the shots.

My nurse was a gift of compassion and kindness.  She patiently walked me through the process.  She comforted me as I cried.  She never rushed me; she stood beside me offering me grace and encouragement.  I cried so hard at some points that I couldn’t see the syringe I was holding in my hand. Several times, when I had convinced myself to push the needle into my abdomen, I froze.  I could not move.  I practiced deep breathing.  I kept repeating my mantra.  After uncountable minutes of tears and suspended movement, I did it!  I sunk the needle and depressed the syringe.  Every bit of the solution entering my abdomen burned; I continued to plunge it in.  The needle withdrawal was a rapid movement of victory!

 Inserting the needle and injecting the burning solution continued twice a day for fifteen days, as I stayed focused on the One who shepherds me and repeated the promise that I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.  With only half of my abdomen available for injections, I had a limited area to work with.  I developed extensive bruising and large, rock hard hematomas.

As the medication thinned my blood, the skin breakdown around my stoma became significant.  One particularly rough day, as blood pooled in my ostomy bag, I required an impromptu visit at the wound-ostomy clinic with a check-in from the concerned surgeon.  Throughout this time, I had to learn new techniques and try different appliance set ups as we worked to minimize the exposure from my oddly shaped, oddly placed, retracted little stoma.

None of this was easy.  I got discouraged.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

I began to focus my thoughts on all that the Lord had provided up to that point.  My heart became overwhelmed with gratitude.  I tried to welcome the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Give thanks in all circumstances) and James 1:2 (Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds). I tried to welcome these words, rather than allow them to guilt me to be in an emotional place I had not yet arrived.  As I re-focused my thoughts away from the difficulties around me and onto the many graces provided to me, my heart became overwhelmed with gratitude!

The reality is that my circumstances did not change.  I was still in the recovery phase after surgery.  My energy was still low.  I daily dealt with pain.  I still required injections twice a day and lab draws twice a week.

“From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”  Psalm 61:2

Sometimes my heart gets overwhelmed… but God.
God is good.
God provides.
God comforts.
God sends comforters to me.
God is with me.
God is shepherding me through this.

I am humbly grateful.

 

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He is the One who writes my story…

By mid-April, I was six weeks post-op.  I wrote a “final update” to my friends and family. Though my long days of convalescing from surgery were coming to an end, the reality is that this was only the beginning of the story.  This was just one tumultuous chapter.

During my early recovery days, a rather thoughtless extrovert informed me that “ostomies are GROSS!”  As an inner-world processor who never has a clever come-back, I was surprised by my response for him: “Having an ostomy is better than being dead!”

Recovery from the surgery was a physically and emotionally painful process, but I survived.  I lived to experience more days; I can receive each day as a gift. I am reminded of a quote posted by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation,

“I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.”

~William C. Hennan

There was no “resuming normal life” following convalescing.  There was a new normal, a different normal to be learned and experienced and embraced.  I wrote of that time:

“Waves of grief over what I lost mingle with gratitude that I am alive. Throughout the last week I’ve had three different conversations with loved ones when they shared that during the first week of my hospital stay, they feared that I would not survive. The reality of what I endured is sinking in, what my body suffered and fought through. I know others have not survived this, but I did. I have a calming peace that reminds me that I am okay, but I also feel immense sorrow that I will never be the same. I cling to the Word of God that reminds me that every day of my life was written before one of them came to be (Ps 139:16); none of this took Him by surprise. Yet there is a part of me that wants to push back and scream, ‘THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE PART OF MY STORY!!!’ I shake my head in disbelief and wonder. I put my hand on my abdomen; the crinkle of the plastic pouch and rigid feel of the appliance awakens my senses and affirms that this is real. This is real. This is real, and I’m okay. It doesn’t always feel real, and I don’t always feel okay. I must remind myself that it is so. If the goal of grief work is acceptance and adjustment, then I must continue to embrace the grief. This is not a life change that I would have chosen, but this is part of my story. And I’m okay.”

 This is part of my story.  I wouldn’t have written a chapter this way; if under compulsion to write such an ordeal, I would have wrapped it up quickly and moved on.  However, I am not the author of my story.  My loving heavenly Father is the author of my life.

In His mercy and love for me, He is using this pain to shape me.  This is not a theological statement about whether God causes or merely allows tragedy in our life; this is a reminder of the promise found in Romans 8:28.  He will work all things together for my good.

He is using my frailty to renew me.  My continual prayer is that He empty me of myself so that I can be filled with Him.  If illness is His means, then I need not resist. He is using my brokenness and suffering to shine His light into my own darkness.  It is my prayer that the words I compile here will bring honor to Christ, and that He will use these words of vulnerability to shine His light into the lives of others as well.

This is only the beginning, and there are more chapters to be written: one about my liver and one about a vicious bacteria.  I am not well.  I do not know when I will be well again, but this is part of my story.  And I’m okay.

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One Step at a Time (Rehab!)

After thirteen days in the hospital, the first eleven without food, I was ready to be discharged.  What started with a text to my supervisor on March 3rd, letting her know I thought I needed an antibiotic and was going to be a little late coming into work that morning, was ending nearly two weeks later, following two abdominal surgeries.  It was now mid-March.

I was ready to be discharged.  I was a different person leaving the hospital than I was when I entered.  I had lost twenty pounds.  I had lost a third of my colon.  I had gained open wounds, stitches, and staples.  I had gained a left-side stoma.  My arms and hands were a series of bumps and bruises from requiring two concurrent IV sites, which were changed every few days to maintain viability of access and daily lab draws to monitor infection and system functioning.  The backs of both arms were deep shades of black and purple from the heparin shots given every 8 hours.  My body endured significant trauma from the infection, from the cocktails of antibiotics and pain medications, from the surgeries.  I was alive.  I was different, but I was alive.

I was ready to be discharged.  I had lost the ability to control movement of my left hip and leg following the left-side colectomy surgery.  I had lost the ability to put full weight on my left leg.  One of my successes for that day’s final in-hospital physical therapy session was the fact that I was able to transfer myself from sitting in a wheelchair to standing with a walker, then slowly shuffle right – left – right, then sit back down in the wheelchair that the physical therapist rolled up tight against the back of my legs.  I wasn’t really sure we could call it walking.  Much of my weight rested on my arms and walker, and I lacked the strength to actually pick up my feet to step.  Either way, we called it progress!

I was ready to be discharged.  I still required assistance with movement I used to take for granted, like sitting up in bed.  I still required complete assistance with personal cares, all the typical things like getting a cup of water to brush my teeth in bed and all the new things like learning to empty my ostomy bag.  I still required wound care, as the battles fought in the operating room had left me with five new abdominal scars.  I still required all my meals to be prepared by someone else and served to me on a tray in bed.  My daily existence was confined to my hospital bed.

I was ready to be discharged.  My insurance company wanted to send me to a rehab facility an additional hour further away from my family, requiring a four hour round-trip commute would they come to visit me.  In answer to the prayers of many, the hospital social worker was able to present my case and get approval from the insurance company to authorize my stay at a rehab center ten miles from my home.

The discharge from the hospital, with the many hands assisting my transfer out of bed, into the wheelchair, out of the wheelchair, into the vehicle, as well as the ride to the rehabilitation facility, are a bit of a blur for me.  My husband recounted later the challenge and anxiety of the drive for him, as he ferried his precious and fragile cargo from one care facility to the next.

I do remember my arrival at the rehab center.  Unknown to us, the nurse from our church family who works at the facility, was waiting for my arrival.  Once I was transferred into the wheelchair, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a warm hug.  I was so weak; I’m not sure I even had the strength to hug her back.  All I remember is feeling held and safe.  I felt like I could take a deep breath for the first time in two weeks!

My transition at the rehab facility did not go smoothly, but I watched the staff work with genuine compassion, despite the challenges we all were facing.  The physical and occupational therapy I received was fantastic!  Their goal was the same as mine: to get me home.  We were all working together for my success.  I felt tremendous gratitude.

The stoma-healing diet was as much of a challenge for me as it was for the kitchen staff who prepared my meals.  I began to count on white fish and peaches for lunch, along with boiled chicken breast and peaches for dinner.  Thankfully, they also provided chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream any time I made the request!  It was the only time in my life I did not care about those chocolate calories!

Visitors were more frequent, as I was back in our area, close enough for friends and church family to stop by.  The look on one friend’s face when she entered my rehab bedroom spoke more than her words ever could; her uncontrollable tears communicated the pitiful reality of my current condition.  My 5’10” frame of solid structure lay weak and resigned in my bed.

I kept mostly to myself, stayed mostly in my room.  I was a woman in my early fourties; a feeble body was the only thing I had in common with the other residents who were twice my age or more.  After a few solitary days, I began forcing myself leave my room to prevent depression from settling into my heart.  I would set my piano books on my lap and wheel myself into the sitting room where the piano resided.  Various residents would be present, staff would wander in and out.  I would play for as long as I had the physical strength to remain sitting up.  I played old hymns.  Some of the residents would sing along to favorites.  I played contemporary worship songs that helped me to reflect on the sovereignty of God.  I would often cry as I played.  Many expressed gratitude for the music, but I knew that I was doing it to heal my own spirit.

Physical therapy focused on helping me strengthen my left hip and leg while learning to walk safely with a weak side.  If I was asked to do ten knee bends, I would do twelve.   If I was asked to stand at a counter-height table to work on a task for ninety seconds, I would stand and work for two minutes.  The goal of physical therapy was to teach me the adjustments I would need to make for being successful at home while simultaneously working to rebuild some of the strength that I had lost.

Occupational therapy focused on helping me regain independence with personal cares, including techniques for bathing from a seated position.  I learned how to use assistive devices to take socks on/off and to reach for items without bending.

Wound and ostomy care were attended to by the nursing staff.  One of the surgery sites became infected and required the nurses to insert a wick each day into the open wound to draw the infected fluid out.  Stoma care was challenging due to many factors, including the daily changing stoma size as it healed, the irregular football-shaped stoma, the placement of the stoma on a natural abdominal crease, and the retraction of the stoma itself.  Each nurse had different experiences with ostomy appliances and accessories; each nurse approached the ostomy care differently.  I soaked it all in, trying not to be overwhelmed or confused but rather to learn unique techniques and tricks from each of them.

Physically I was seeing small daily improvements; the staff rejoiced with me over each gain.  Emotionally I was welcoming and embracing the grief over what my body had endured and over the impact this was going to have over so many areas of life.  Spiritually I was being nourished by Bible reading, prayer, and regular encouragement from my church family.  Yet every night, I cried, longing to be home, longing to be with my family, longing for the comforts of familiar surroundings.  The days counted on.

One night in rehab, I wrote the following:

A friend gave me the book JESUS TODAY. One of the devos encourages, “Let pain and problems remind you of your constant need for Me. Create a collection of brief prayers, such as ‘Help me, Jesus. Fill me with your peace. Show me your way.'”

Today has been hard. I’ve really concentrated on Philippines 4:8 – the whatever is good, lovely, ect. Thinking about those things. I wrote a list of today’s good things. I tried to express gratitude to everyone who I encountered today.

But in many of the quiet, uninterrupted moments of today I just cried. 14 days of wearing my big girl boots, too much to take in, no option beside bravery. And now the tears seem to come. A lot of tears.

This evening as I sat crying, I recalled the reminder to use a brief prayer to speak my heart, and so i just began repeating, “Jesus, be near me. Jesus, be near me.”

A young nurse’s aid walked into my room at that time to check on me… and then spent the next 40 minutes with me, helping me care for myself and get cleaned up before bed. She rubbed on lotion. She even tucked me in.

And when she left my room, I knew that Jesus had answered my prayer through her. Her hands were His hands of ministry to me. Her kindness was His kindness to me. He is near. He is loving and good.

That truly speaks of my experience through my early days of this journey.  I continually experienced Jesus through other people.  Our church family faithfully delivered meals for my husband and three boys.  I was showered with cards of encouragement, including a special poster colored by the 3rd and 4th grade class at my youngest son’s school with an encouragement from Psalm 46.  Bouquets of flowers brought the outdoors into my solitary space.  My paraplegic friend sat wheelchair to wheelchair with me as we discussed how God uses tragedy in our lives.  My pastors took turns visiting me, providing a devotional thought, praying for my healing, and offering me communion.

In the midst of all of this sorrow, all of this pain, I continually experienced the presence of Jesus.  He is kind.  He is near.  He is loving and good.