Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #20 (the last one)

wpid-IMG_20130912_154400_739.jpgHello!

“Everything’s Normal Again. Nothing Will Ever be Normal Again.” These are the words I wrote in a post one month after we had returned to Earlham after spending 46 days in the hospital and drawing very near death. This is the last installment of these real time reflections from five years ago. It has been a valuable investment of time and emotional energy for us.

As I think back now to those last 3 days (March 25-27th, 2009) at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, MN I have many thoughts and emotions. We drove the four hours from Rochester to Earlham on March 27th the same day that Benj was celebrating his 15th birthday.

Having just spent 46 days in the Mayo Clinic hospitals and having nearly died these things permanently changed my DNA. It was all still very overwhelming to me on this day that we finally made it home. I was relieved to be leaving the hospital, yet at the same time very sad as well. I had developed a strange kind of dependence and comfort in being in the safe environs of the hospital.  To now leave this place that had forever changed my life was not comforting at all. In fact it was downright scary and discombobulating.

The therapists had become my second family during these intense days of rehabilitation. Many of my fellow patients whom I saw regularly in therapy had also made significant progress by this time. Many of them had been released. But it was not comforting to be coming home. I knew that this was what had to be. I wanted to come home and be reunited with my children and sleep in my own bed, but at the same time I didn’t want to come home. For I knew even then that the road back would be rocky and paved with difficulties.

I recognized even during those early days that Karla and I had just been through an intense war together and as such were about to enter into the same sorts of psychological life issues that real soldiers returning from combat experience. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a term that should not just be reserved for combat veterans. It can also be rightly applied in medical situations like ours. I have also asked numerous doctors about this idea because I had never previously come across it. All have agreed with the general nature of my comparison.

Reading through the list of PTSD symptoms was like reading our autobiography without even having written it yet.  I forewarned Karla that she would probably experience some of the symptoms of PTSD and she did. These things take some time and much talking to work through and I’m very happy to report that five years removed we are both doing very well spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and in every other way.

Even though I am not serving as a pastor anymore and have no job, nevertheless I have a peace about the future. I am forty-nine years old and have basically no idea what the near future holds and yet I am at peace. Karla is at peace. Our children are still wild. No, strike that. Just checking to see if you were really reading this or not. Our relationships as a family have never been better.

To give you some idea of why I was a bit nervous to come home I will share some of Karla’s blog postings from the final few days in the hospital. And to help you understand exactly what level of functioning I was at let me tell you this. I posted on April 26th, 2009 that I estimated my right side movement at 50% of what it had been previously. Also, one month after I arrived home I was doing three pound arm curls with my right arm.

My speech was still coming back and word finding becoming less of an issue, but these things were all there lying in wait. One month after I had come back home I was already 100% independent so far as the tasks of daily living were concerned.

But so many things were on my heart and mind during those days. I was simultaneously trying to do the full time job of rehab including strength training, retraining my brain to learn stuff, thinking about my family and also the effect this ordeal might have on the church. It was all so overwhelming to me at the time.

Plus, to top things off I wanted to give the Easter message on April 12th, 2009, just 15 days after I had returned home. I did preach that message, brief though it was, and with a break in the middle so I could rest. We stopped in the middle and sang a hymn and then I continued. I didn’t preach again for six more weeks. I know that at one point during the stay I was down about 40 pounds or more…but even more than that just felt overall very weak still. Again, let me remind you that just prior to the surgeries I had been in the best shape of my entire life. I’m not sure what it was that propelled me to work out so intensely in those last few months leading up to the surgeries but I am certain that the condition my body was in was nothing but a big plus for my making it through all of this alive.

A friend of mine left the following encouraging comment on the blog during these days and I share it with you now, not to make much of me but to make much of the God I put my hope in during these tumultuous days when life seemed so ephemeral.

“Been through the fire” is certainly an appropriate image, and a Biblical one. Of the thousands of things God has been doing these days, one of them is lending Mike credibility as a pastor. When he stands next to a hospital bed and quotes Isaiah 43, no one will ever think, “Easy for you to say; you don’t know my situation.” In fact, as he recounts his own story, they will be massively encouraged that God’s promise is true: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame will not consume you.”

Praise God for his promise, and your lives as a visual image of His faithfulness for the rest of your lives.

Tim Trudeau”

The following are excerpts from the blog posts that Karla wrote during those final three days in rehab before coming home on March 27th, 2009.

“One More Day!” (March 25, 2009)

(Karla) “It’s hard to believe, but Mike only has one more full day of therapy.  He has opted to have some therapy on the day he leaves, so we won’t be heading home until about lunchtime.  He is not one to turn down a good thing!  He will also have several days off before starting up again, so he wants to be sure to get as much in as possible.

Today the therapists spent a lot of time going over therapies he can do at home.  We also discussed some areas that he will need to be especially aware of, like curbs and rough terrain.  That last part will be especially important when we head to baseball games in May!

The Mennonites just left after singing for us for the last time.  What a great group they are and what a great ministry.  There were 8 people here tonight, but 18 on Sunday night.  They sang “Victory in Jesus.”  Hearing of Jesus healing the lame has taken on new meaning.  It is far more personal now.  Mike then requested that they sing “How Great Thou Art,” which is one of his favorite songs.  I am hoping that next year at this time Mike will be able to play it on the piano again!”

 “This Has Been the Last Day in Rehab” March 26th, 2009

 (Karla) “This will be a quick post, because it is late and I need to be back here early.

Mike had a great day in rehab.  All of the therapists spent quite a bit of time discussing exercises he can do at home, as well as a lot of safety issues.  We feel very confident as we leave that Mike is ready to be home.  He did opt out of physical therapy for tomorrow, but will have an hour of speech therapy before we leave.

 I am having quite a wide range of emotions.  All of the therapists, nurses, and doctors are very excited for us to leave.  I wish I had kept track of every nurse so that I could thank them personally, but that would probably be too overwhelming anyway.  Last night, Randy, one of Mike’s first ICU nurses, stopped down.  That was very emotional for all of us!  He will keep following on the blog, and said that he is looking forward to listening to Mike’s first sermon back when it is up on the church website.  Several others have said that as well.  How encouraging!

 Most of all, we are thankful to God for sustaining us through this trial.  A couple of nights ago, I was reading Psalm 67 in the one year Bible.  The first two verses say this, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all the nations.”  That is one of the reasons He has been gracious to us in this trial, that His way may be known on earth.  We are still discovering ways He has been good to us and lessons we are to learn.  So, while we are heading home, the journey isn’t over yet!”

 I wrote the following post two days after arriving home.

 “Premature Reflections from the Other Side of a Great Trial”  March 29, 2009

“Since this whole drama began back in October of 2008, and since we (Sheila Streicher) were able to get this blog up and running about the second week of November, we have had just under 101,000 page views, with the busiest day being Feb. 27th…which must have been heart and lung clot day, when there were 5,449 page views.  All this to say that this drama has not been played out only locally.  This has been a wide spread God glorifying miracle.  But even if it had turned out very differently God would still be glorified.

For may I remind you all of my original posting where I confidently quoted Romans 8:28, which speaks of God causing all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.  This does not mean that all things are good.  Not at all.  Bad is bad and evil is evil.  But it has been my firm conviction throughout this ordeal that this verse was true, as is all of  God’s Word.

So when I read in the comments recorded here (of which I have read every one) of a church on the north side of Atlanta, Ga. when a good report was given and the church broke out into applause…for a perfect stranger…or maybe we’re not so much strangers as we are divided by denominations and such…Oh well I’m sitting here weeping as I pluck away on the keyboard with one hand (for though the right side continues to improve it’s not strong enough to type).  And there are literally hundreds and thousands of you for whom this same tale could be told regarding smaller Bible study groups, etc.  Thank You!  This is about as close I can come to actually saying  the words “Words cannot express how grateful I am for all of you.”  Just give me some time though, and I’ll try to make things right with you all.”

A couple of days later I wrote another post:

“More Premature Reflections from the Other Side of a Great Trial” April 1, 2009

“Karla is the one who suffered the most in this trial.  Following the resection of my AVM I ended up spending 14 nights in ICU which seemed like 100 nights with the persistent sleep deprivation.  But my vote still goes to Karla for suffering the most trauma during our 46 day stay at Mayo.

But after watching me endure several seizures… for those of you that know her history…that must have have been very rough on her.  But then for her to have to endure the heart and lung clot scare and to face the very real possibility of becoming a widow (which she would have been if we had been anywhere other than Mayo or a hospital in San Diego where they perform this surgery) well those are the scenes in which nightmares can germinate.

A few minutes ago Dr. Sundt, the heart surgeon called.  We had asked him to stop by while we were still in the hospital.  I kept it short and simple .  I simply said “Thanks for saving my life.”  He made a few comments about how close it was.  Yesterday we received via email pics of all the clots after they had been removed.  Yuck.  I believe there were 22 in all.  The one that came out of my heart was 8 centimeters long… that’s 3.1 inches!  And it was beefy.      I don’t remember much about those days, but again… my wife does.  

Not only this, but she had to deal with the added stress of not being home for her 5 children much during this time.  This is why I say Karla had the more difficult row to hoe.  For the entirety of my rehab I mentally put my children on a shelf…knowing that that they would be better served in the long run by a daddy who gave himself 100% to rehabilitation.  And I believe that they are.  I gave it 100%  ALL the time I was in rehab.

Once we compiled all of my get well cards into a single pile I think it is 7 inches high!  To think that each and every one of these cards was hand picked…in person for me is humbling.  Thank You!  I’ve just begun to read through them all again…for there are some I don’t even remember reading!  They are all on my nightstand so that they are the last thing I read before falling to sleep.

After Moses successfully led the Israelites out of captivity there was a song offered up to God.  Parts of it include the following… “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying ‘I will sing unto the LORD for he has trumphed gloriously the horse and rider thrown into the sea.   Later in verse 11 Moses wrote “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Indeed.

Thanks be to God and all of you as well!

Mike”

April 1, 2009 Marla Smith blog comment

“I agree Mike……….Karla’s one great gal!

Yes, several times I couldn’t bear to think of Karla being a widow. She was completely oblivious (in my opinion) to the “things floating around in Mike’s heart” when she was first informed and, I had imagined myself hugging her at your funeral service, Mike. (Sorry for the honesty here). I am so glad you are home! I know God has kept you here for HIS purposes! Glory to God!

Keep working as hard as you can with your rehab, you’ll see the results!

We love you! Steve & Marla”

April 2, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment

“Dear Mike and Karla,
Mike you are no doubt right. For much of those 46 days you had little idea what was really going on and what the issues and possibilities really were; these were blessed days to be ‘in the dark.’ Karla on the other hand was left to stare at it all with enough clarity and understanding to be often troubled and at times truly terrified by what was happening.

However you are different people now — I can’t but believe that you are more compassionate and caring people now and countless others will be more helped by you than they might have been apart from these terrifying days.

Mike Mason in his book on ‘The Mystery of Marriage’ has a chapter on ‘Intimacy’ that came to mind as I read your blog this morning. Confirming your remark as to Karla’s suffering in this — it relates to the intimacy and oneness of husband and wife. Married couple’s he argues ‘own each other’ more truly than they own anything else on earth; houses, cars even children; after all even the children are supposed to eventually grow up and move away — but the two of you own each other as long as you live — we are each other’s most precious possession by far. Karla, as you note, stared losing her most precious possession square in the face — contemplated losing her most precious possession and being left in that sense ‘alone’ to deal with it all, yes with Jesus help, but still….’

May the seas you sail remain, much , much calmer for a long , long time — this is my prayer for you both (and your children as well).

Randy”

April 5th, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment:

“Dear Mike and Karla,
I usually don’t read other people’s mail to you but for whatever reason as I scrolled down to post this I cause the lines from your friend Wendy and found them profound. ‘Nothing in our lives is wasted….God uses it all.’ I know this. I believe this, but I don’t see it as clearly as I should and I certainly don’t live it out with anything like consistency, but if I did how much calmer I would be.

‘Nothing in our lives is wasted…God uses it all.’ Even, or maybe especially, the things that break our hearts and lay us low.

Karla, I hope your hair quits stressing out — and I pray that Mike will be therapy champion in all three categories of his therapy — we are settling for nothing less than the trifecta — only for your trifecta we are not predicting ‘first, second, and third, but first, first and first — really the therapy triple crown. May the Lord soon have you preaching, piano playing back packing with big John in the Big Horn mountains.

Love you both,

Randy”

April 10, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment:

“Mike and Karla,
On and on and on the trials go and where they stop nobody knows. David knew something of this, he must have or he never would have or could have written Psalm 13,

Psalm 13:1-3 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me…

But by the grace of God you can finish your cycle of trial with the confidence that David finished his… for what was true of David is true of the two of you as well.

Psalm 13:5ff But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

What a deal — an all but resurrected man preaching on resurrection Sunday — but some day a truly resurrected man will walk the new heaven and the new earth with middle of the night runs to the hospital forever, and ever, and ever behind him. Such is the promise of Easter — such is the promise of God for us in Jesus.

Randy”

April 11, 2009 (the day before Easter)

(Mike) “Our prayer through all of this has been “Lord, however you can be most glorified…do it.”  Karla even confided with me through tears last night that as I went in for open heart surgery [to have the blood clots removed from my heart and lungs] she prayed “Lord, please save him…but if you don’t it’s all in your hands anyway.”   It takes an amazing amount of faith to utter such words….”  

“If we could see into the future we never would have chosen this path.  But we cannot see into the future.  The future things are the secret things that belong to the Lord.  Some of you, no doubt, are just days away from finding out some bit of news that is even worse than we heard on October 23, 2008.   But until you get that news, and even after you get that piece of news I want to encourage you to obey Philippians 4:6-7  “The Lord is at hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God , which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 

One day before I had been home one month I wrote the following post:

“Everything’s Normal Once Again. Nothing Will Ever be Normal Again.”  April 26, 2009

Now, as far as processing all of the events of the past few months.  Some of you have confided in me that you too are having difficulty processing these things as well.  The church that I shepherd nearly lost this undershepherd.  My friends, I encourage you to begin processing these things for yourselves by taking a good hard look at  Romans 8:28-29 once again: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”  All things for good.  It’s what the verse clearly says.  Even so, I feel like we’re all, especially Karla and me, experiencing some of the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome!

Everything is so normal once again, yet nothing will ever be normal again.”

April 28th, 2009 blog comment by Randy Anderson

“Dear Mike and Karla,

All things work together for good. It is remarkable what is inside of those simple words ‘all things’ isn’t it? You would think that minus the catastrophic sorts of things that the two of you have been through people like myself by hearing your story and watching it from a safe distance might more easily count our blessings and move through our ‘catastrophe free’ daily challenges with relative ease; but it is not so for some reason.

 I will pray for your physical therapy regimen that you would persevere with discipline and be blessed with progress. Just think, some day you will have a resurrected body — this will be a ‘therapy free’ body that runs like the wind and who knows what else — someday — but not yet. However, ‘now you are a child of God already…’ (1 John 3). We are from God little children… (I John 4)

What a thought. May the grace continue to be with you both.

Randy”

Well, this is the last “official” installment of this project “Reflections in Real Time from Five Years Ago.” It has been a very emotional experience to have gone back and relived each of those forty-six days. Some information from these 20 installments will be included in the book I am currently writing.  We have written 280 posts over the past 63 months. More than 1,200 people have  left comments and precisely 157,959 page views have been registered in this same period of time…from 50 or more countries.

It is all so vivid to us still. Well, for me there were several days where I was completely out of commission. But Karla was never out of commission. She pressed on through it all like a real live Rock of Gibraltar. But we all know who the real Rock in this whole drama was and still is.

After safely delivering roughly two million Israelites across the Red Sea from the hot pursuit of Pharoah’s armies, Moses writes of God in Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”

Indeed. God worked a few wonders in this whole ordeal and Providentially arranged for all of the intricate pieces of this complex puzzle to be arranged in such a way that I remain alive today.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. James 4:14-15 tells us that as human beings we are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead we must be ready and open to whatever the Lord brings our way at any and every moment in time. Thanks for joining us in this journey!

Mike

 

 

(Karla’s) Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #19

wpid-IMG_20131226_010910_846.jpgLooking back at March 22-24, 2009, I noticed that the blog posts I wrote were less intense.  That is likely because I was much more hopeful and optimistic by this point in time.  On the 22nd I commented that when I went for lunch at the Canadian Honker, it was probably the first time that I did not look stressed when I went to lunch.  I am sure this was true.  At this point Mike had been in the hospital for 41 days. That is a long time people!!!  And for 3 1/2 months before the start of the hospital stay, not an hour went by that I did not feel the weight of our situation.  I clearly remember going through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my sister’s wedding feeling happy and sad at the same time.  Yes, that is possible.  There were moments of great joy in those times, but they were always short.  The biblical phrase, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” comes to mind.  That’s how my life felt.  I did truly rejoice in the celebration of the birth of Christ and in my sister’s wedding. But it was always tainted by sorrow.

On a different note, I really enjoyed writing the post, “Mike’s Hospital Stay by the Numbers.”  I am such a geek in that way!  From my perspective it really demonstrated the vast array of different kinds of medical care that God had provided for our benefit.  It also highlights again the amazing way that the Mayo system works.  After Gabbie was born, I had some never diagnosed problem that caused my heart rate to be extremely low and me to be very short of breath.  I had 15 blood draws in two days that I believe checked for every illness then known to man.  The pulmonary people did not communicate well with the cardiac doctors, and the internists were kept out of the loop it seemed.

It finally took a call from my ob/gyn to someone who practiced at that hospital who came in and said, “Enough!  There will be one more blood draw to check for what I want to check, and if you want any more blood this is your last chance.”  At Mayo there would have been collaboration from the get go.  I really do not understand why the system has not been replicated.  I am just glad that we were at Mayo when we went through all of this.

Finally, these were days of great progress in rehab.  We were no longer even discussing major modifications to the house.  Mike was able to maneuver stairs so well that I was not at all concerned. After much looking I had found a tub transfer chair that would work on our tub, which was no easy task! I also found a reasonably priced grab bar for the shower.  I don’t recall exactly how long he used these, but it was not long.  We still have the transfer chair in the garage attic.  I’ll give any takers a good deal on it!

These final days of rehab before going home were full of work and anticipation.  The kids were all excited to get Dad back home (and Mom as well).  There were a lot of details to get taken care of before we left.  And Mike continued to work very hard in rehab to make as much progress as possible before we left.  No one can ever accuse him of not giving it all he had!

 

Selected quotes from Karla’s posts from these three days:

March 22nd, 2009

“…I went for lunch at the Canadian Honker today, a restaurant that I have eaten at many times while I have been here.  As I left today, I thought that for the first time I didn’t look like a stressed out family member of a St. Marys patient.  That was a very good feeling!  While the road ahead is still long, it does look like we will get to the end of it.  We will forever be changed by this whole experience, which is a good thing.  We have been through the fire and we have survived!  Thanks be to God!”

March 23rd, 2009 Mike’s Hospital Stay by the Numbers

“Therapy continues to progress.  We see new improvements every day, but it’s like we’ve mentioned in previous posts, a new movement in the hand or leg, a little bit clearer speech.  Mike and I have been talking about the various places he’s been, so I thought I would post some “statistics,” since I am a numbers person!

Mike has been in more rooms during a single hospital stay than anyone I have ever known!  Since February 12th, he has been in 12 different rooms.  I’m hoping our room switches are over!  He was in 4 different Neuro ICU rooms, 2 regular Neuro rooms, 1 Cardiac ICU room, 1 regular Cardiac room, and 4 Rehab rooms.  He stayed in all these rooms on visits to 4 floors:  8 (Neuro ICU), 9 (regular Neuro), 6 (Cardio), and 3 (Rehab).

While most of the rooms were private , some were not.  He has had 3 differerent roommates.  The first rehab roomie, aka “The Cougher,” the second rehab roomie, the beloved Melvin,  and the third rehab roomie, aka “Sitar man.”  We are hoping for no more roommates!

Doctors from 10 different departments have seen Mike, some more than others.  We have seen people from Neurosurgery, Cardiac Surgery, Cardiology, Infectious Disease, Allergy, Dermatology, Vascular Medicine, Critical Care/Anesthesiology, Hematology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.  Whew!  I must say, all of the doctors have been very kind, although we do have our favorites.

I would give the number of different medications he has been on, but there are too many to count!  Not really, but I don’t have any idea how many there have been.  He’s had seizure meds, meds to lower and raise his blood pressure (obviously not at the same time), antibiotics, medicated shampoos, insulin, vitamins, blood thinners, …  You get the idea.

The other number too big to count is the number of blood draws.  Some days they have been multiple times.  Currently, it is every morning at about 4:30.  Ugh!  Thankfully, most of the phlebotomists are very good at their jobs.

Finally, he has been in the hospital for 42 days, and it will be 46 when we go home.  That is a very long time, for us, and our kids, and everyone who has been taking care of them!  We got out again today, and when we got back he said that he is ready to leave this place.

On a serious note, Mike continues to have significant chest pain when he coughs, sneezes, or laughs.  It is very easy to forget about the chest surgery, since we are so focused on the brain.  However, it does play into how tired he gets and how therapy has to be limited.  I am anticipating the trip home being thoroughly exhausting, as well as the transition to us being responsible for everything.  Keeping track of his meds is going to be a full time job!  Only 4 more days and we’ll be home!”

March 24th, 2009 Progress Report

“I just went to check my e-mail and post quickly before going home.  One friend asked many good question, so I will try to answer those in this post, as many people probably have the same questions.

We have not had to make many changes to the house.  We (men from church) added a railing so that we have two railings on the stairs from the first floor to the second.  That is the only physical change to the house we needed to make.

We have purchased a bath transfer chair so that Mike can sit down and shower.  We also have purchased a suction grab bar for the purpose of support when he is standing.

Dr. Meyer (the brain surgeon) had an interesting comment yesterday.  We told him what we were doing to the house, and he said that he wouldn’t put much money into lots of changes because he does not think Mike will need adaptations for long.  He said, “I know I sound like a broken record, but this is what I said would happen.  Remember, we will see improvements for a year, but everything is coming back.”  I then told him that immediately following surgery, I did not believe him, but now I do.

Mike is walking very well.  He will not need any help getting from the car to the house and does not use a walker or a wheelchair.  He is very aware of how easily he fatigues and will not be taking any long walks.  He also handles the stairs fine, both up and down.  I assisted him in this today and was not at all concerned.

 My friend’s final question was, “Has Mike gained any weight back?”  The answer to that is, “Yes.”  I would say most of what is missing now is muscle weight.  I don’t know what he currently weighs, but 9 days ago he weighed 26 pounds less than when he went in for brain surgery.  And this was after gaining some weight back!  He has been eating fine, and now needs to build up muscle.

Tonight there are two nurses who are “floating” from Neuro.  That is how Mayo handles lower patient census.  They put nurses wherever they are needed if the patient count is too low on their own floor.  These nurses both took care of Mike on the Neuro floor and were so happy to see his progress.  One asked for the church website so that she could listen to his first sermon back and follow the blog.  She then came in to say hello and gave us both hugs.  That is the kind of care Mike has received here and we are very grateful!”

Mike’s take on these three days five years out:

Karla said it well, sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. That is something we both have experienced more intensely ever since October 23rd, 2008, the day we discovered this anomaly in my brain. From that day until the day of brain surgery on February 12, 2009 we have had many moments of these seemingly contradictory emotions. Thanksgiving took on an entirely new meaning as we were even more thankful than normal. Hey, if things are simply status quo there is no cause to grow in any way. But when life presents a challenge whether minimal or severe, it is cause for drawing deeply from whatever has been stored up in the sunnier days.  Christmas took on a whole new meaning as well, wondering if this would be the last one…or last one as my normal self.

The wedding I performed for Karla’s sister Kara and Eddie on January 3, 2009 was emotional as well. We intentionally scheduled the surgery when we did so as to be sure to get this wedding done! As I read through the traditional vows and asked Kara and Eddie to repeat them after me I was thinking very much about the sacred nature of vows. Also, for better or worse, not even knowing then of how very bad, nearly catastrophically bad it would get before it got better.

Little did they know at the time that Eddie would be diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma just three years later, which is a very treatable form of cancer that they caught in the earliest stage. The prognosis is excellent.

By this time five years ago I was becoming very anxious to get out of the hospital to my own home and my own bed. Funny how much difference a week or two can make. I went from the shock of thinking there’s absolutely no way I will be ready or able to go home and function with any semblance of normalcy to impatience and boredom in such a very short time.

The human brain and body is an amazing thing! The insights and tricks and skills that rehabilitation specialists have acquired and then transfer to patients is nothing short of amazing. I was very blessed to have therapists who didn’t just treat me as a patient, but who really and truly “got me.” For example, the speech therapist worked with me on a 20 minute Easter sermon (normally I would go for about 45 minutes) for more than three weeks, knowing that would provide the highest motivation to work hard at it. My goal was to preach on Easter morning, which I did do, with a break in the middle, because I was so weak I could barely hold my own weight up for ten straight minutes while concentrating on speaking as well.

By this point in our saga, March 24, 2009, I would be heading home in just three days, so I let my guard down just a bit and began to let my mind go toward our five children at home. When that happened it was just as I suspected would happen. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! I knew it would take a long time to recover from the storm we had just weathered, but I knew that my time at Mayo was quickly coming to an end and I could then focus on the next.

[Comment left by Randy Anderson on March 24th, 2009]

Dear Mike and Karla,
What a trip. The winter of 2009 was a bleak one for the Evans family, but spring has now arrived and you are transitioning into brighter spring like days as well.

I love you both and look forward to increasingly hopeful and joyful reports of your steady, steady progress. John Newton has it right,

‘Tis grace that brought you safe thus far,
and grace will lead you home… and eventually grace will lead you all the way home to the New Heaven and the New Earth where there are no hospitals or sleepless nights or painful coughs or frightened children. Someday!

Look forward to visiting you having you actually remember the visit.

Randy

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #18

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The Evans Family in 2010

It has not been much fun for Karla or me reliving in real time the storm that blew through our lives five years ago. It has been an emotional, painful, and gut wrenching experiment and experience. It is exhausting in every way. The memories are all still very vivid for both of us, making it seem like only yesterday that these events were occurring. But alas, I look at the calendar and it has been exactly five years ago. These days cover March 19-21, 2009.

Having lived these past five years the real pain now is seeing where these 46 days away and surgeries would eventually lead. As we said in a previous post the past five years have been rough for our entire family. But the final 8 months serving at Crossroad Church (Nov. 2012-July, 2013) and the emotional trauma that came with it was even more gut wrenching than reliving the F5 tornado that blew through our lives five years ago. Yes, that is correct. Both Karla and I are in complete agreement on this.

It’s one thing to be presented with earth shattering news (the AVM in my brain) because we essentially knew what we were dealing with and could make the best possible plans to move through it in faith. And we did. It is quite another thing to be faced with largely faceless criticism after serving the church for nearly 18 years. One was devastating. The other was devastating with a slam dunk.

Over the course of these days five years ago (March 19-21, 2009) Karla had just arrived back in Rochester after being gone for parts of five days. Below you can see her comments regarding encouraging improvements she noticed in my speech and movement. Also I made just my fifth contribution to the blog during these 46 days away. My first posting after the brain surgery on Feb. 12 came on Feb. 24th, two days before I coded with the blood clots in my heart and lungs. It was not until eleven days after the open heart surgery that I was able to post again.

I do want to make clear that I had posted 78 times on the blog from October, 2008- February 12, 2009. During those 46 days Karla posted 56 times. I am so very thankful for her excellent detail in communicating the facts and progress or regression…all through the eyes of a faith-filled woman. I will be relying upon her precision in recording of these days  in writing the book.

More Progress 3/19/2009

“It was great to get back to Rochester and see the progress Mike has made.  It was noticeable in leg and arm movement and speech.

Mike was in physical therapy when I got to the hospital.  I continue to be amazed by how they get the different muscles to work.  When I left on Sunday, Mike was doing sidesteps at a bar.  Today he was doing it without assistance or support.  He is able to tap his toes and lift his leg.  Great progress!

His arm movement has also improved.  Last week Mike could grip with his hand, but not let it out.  This week he can.  He can move his thumb very well.  He can also lift his arm higher.

Mike’s speech has improved greatly.  He pauses much less and the words seem to come more easily.  He said that he feels less foggy in his thinking, which is a good thing.  The speech therapist is very pleased with his progress.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing getting out.  Putting it that way makes it sound like he’s leaving a jail, which I think it is starting to feel like!  Tomorrow we should find out the definite discharge date.  Mike was not aware that he is going to need extensive outpatient therapy, probably three to four times a week at first.  I have already had people volunteer to help with transportation for that, which is great.

The big news of the day is that he gets a day pass to go out of the hospital!  We are planning to do this on Saturday.  It is a kind of like a dry run for going home.  I’m not sure what we’ll do, but I think it will involve eating, and possibly Menards.  At least part of it will be fun!  There are a lot of things to think about as we prepare to go home, and it will be good to see how we get along outside of the hospital.”

Mike Escaped 3/21/2009

“Yesterday Mike had a great day in rehab.  His speech therapist is really challenging him and I have noticed a lot of progress, even though it’s not as much as Mike would like.  His hand is opening much better and he is able to lift his arm quite high.  The wrist is the next target.  In physical therapy he is to the point where they are working on having good control of his shoulders and trunk.  I think this will help the pain he has had in his neck.

We had a good, but exhausting, trip out today.  First we drove around Rochester a bit looking at the huge houses near the hospital.  Then we went to Menards and got the new shower attachment Mike needs.  After that it was Olive Garden for our usual chicken parmesan and fettucine alfredo.  We finished off the trip with a Culver’s concrete.  Mike became thoroughly exhausted and fell asleep immediately after getting in bed.

The other big news is that we have a discharge date.  We will be going home next Friday, which is Benj’s birthday!  That is probably as good of a birthday present as Benj could get. The rehab therapists had suggested that we not even tell people that we are coming home, but I’m sure the information would get out anyway.  They also suggested that we not have visitors for at least the first week, which is advice that we are going to follow.  It will be very exhausting for Mike just to go home, let alone be around 5 kids all the time and start the outpatient rehab.  I know that everyone is anxious to see him, but I’m afraid that will just have to wait.  As he gets his strength back, he will need less rest and be more than ready to see people!

This next week will involve getting the house ready for Mike and me doing more with him in therapy.  I have more confidence having gone out today.  There are so many things we need to be aware of.  I am far more aware of obstacles to walking than I ever was when the kids were learning to walk!  We would appreciate your continued prayers as we make this next transition.”

Posting from One Who by all Reasonable Accounts Shouldn’t Even be Here 3/21/2009

  • I want you all to know that I’ve read every single one of your comments that you have left on my blog.  After all, there were about 3-4 weeks in there where I didn’t even care about anything.  I thank you all for your encouraging comments, but Pastor Randy Anderson from Sioux Falls,  South Dakota, you sir get the award for the most thoughtful insights through this whole ordeal.
  • I am a living walking miracle if by that we mean God working in ways that he normally does not.  Kim Whittaker, I believe you were the only one to use this word….I mean people just do not make it out alive from what I’ve been through!
  • I can move and lift my arm even higher than I could  a week ago, I can tap my foot to keep up with all the square dance parlance, and they say my speech is becoming more fluent…quicker response time and less difficulty in word finding.  Not only that but I am also working at a fever pitch on stairs.
  • Many of you have asked about how my right side feels.  Let  me tell you this, it feels normal!  I just have to teach my body to re-learn all of these otherwise normal actions.
  • Just happy to be here,

Mike Evans

Mike’s take on these three days:

While Karla was back home for a few days I was pushing myself as hard as humanly possible to regain movement and speech. They were not unrelated. Or at least I made it so. As Karla writes, when she left for home on Sunday afternoon I could grip things but not release my hand. Regardless of how hard I tried I could not release my grip. I looked at it. Nothing. I spoke silently to my hand. Still nothing. I visualized my hand releasing. Nothing.

But now five days later I had regained the ability to release my hand from a grip. God gave it back to me but I was able to find a method that worked for me. I would speak to my hand and tell it what to do, in no uncertain terms, and not very politely. The louder and more forcefully I spoke the more effective it seemed to be in obeying the command center.

This would prove to become rather humorous to others in the family when I would go home in one week. I found that if I did not speak or even yell at my hand I would grab hold of the refrigerator door or the handrail on the stairs and not let go, thus painfully wrenching my shoulder. My right shoulder already had pain issues from the temporary right side paralysis. I can happily say five years later that I no longer speak to my hand.

But I still didn’t have great movement on my right side. Or coordination. So here we are just one week from going home and I still have minimal functioning and was wondering how it would work going home, barely being able to walk, difficulty with speech, and right side weakness and right side lack of fine motor skills.

Five years out my speech is good. My right side is still weaker than the left, though I have always been left handed. But regardless of how hard I work my right side it is just weaker and it always will be weaker. I have now accepted it as a by-product of the brain surgery.

In order to give a visual to help understand what I mean by right side fine motor skill issues, let me say this. I used to gain much joy by just sitting down and playing the piano nearly every day. I have not done much of that in the past five years because my right side is not able to do what it previously did. My brain still knows what it should do and where it should go but it does not work as it once did. Therefore, it is not an enjoyable thing for me to do anymore.

Plus the break on my right pinky left it deformed and bent-in precisely the width of one note. I broke two fingers tubing behind a boat in 2011 on the first day of vacation in Michigan. I was attempting to do a roll-over on a body tube and didn’t let go of the rope in time…you guessed it with the right hand. Two surgeries later one is better. The other remains as a constant reminder…of many things…like limitations, what once was, but most of all that my right side is always going to be one step behind real life. It’s weird.

The following is just one of 38 insightful and helpful comments on the blog by Randy Anderson on March 21st of 2009. He expresses in words what many of you have told us you also were feeling at the time.

Dear Mike,
On the morning of your heart surgery any notion that you might be home by the end of March would have struck me as simply ridiculous. In fact all that day if I paused and thought of you and Karla, which I did many times, I would feel my throat tighten and have to struggle to hold back the tears — it all felt so ominous — and now it all seems like it must have just been a bad dream — now your progress sounds so steady and hopeful and encouraging.

I don’t know what all of that was about, but I do know that the Lord had a design in it all — I am confident that both you and Karla will be more compassionate and caring people for the rest of your lives because of these last long, trying, draining, frightening weeks.

I know that the journey of your recovery is long from over, but I also believe and certainly hope that the darkest and most painful days are behind you for some considerable time.

Reading your blog each day pulled me back to those helpless days when I watched my brother suffering in the shadow of his sons cancer; I supported him poorly (if you can even call it support) — I felt so cheap to try and say or do anything — the circumstances were so overwhelming. I felt some of that same helpless, stunned sadness for you. Frozen by the crushing circumstances that Karla would share day by day.

I would say this, there have been times in the past month when what would pass for my prayers for you were ‘groanings too deep for words.’

I am so thankful for your progress; I am so thankful that you will be heading home on your son’s birthday. There are words for this ” Praise God from whom all blessings flow…’

Randy

Indeed Randy. Indeed.

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Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #17

DSC_1478March 15-18th, 2009

This is the 17th in a series of postings Karla and I are doing in real time plus five years post brain surgery  and all of the drama/trauma that followed us closely. Just click on the colored link if you are interested in the Cliff Notes version.

I remember these days well because Karla had gone home to be with the children as I continued  rehabbing in Rochester. It was a full time exhausting job. Karla left for Earlham on Sunday afternoon the 15th and returned on Thursday the 19th. It was only three full days away from the asylum but it seemed much longer. I was anxious to make as much progress in speech and movement as possible during those days that Karla was gone.

I was hoping that Karla’s time home would be refreshing and invigorating. Instead those days away were filled with vomiting children and a frenetic pace that most moms would feel if they had been away from their home for more than a month.

Hearing that the kids were sick almost made me glad to be 238 miles away! To be honest though my mindset was entirely self-motivated at the time. I have said it in a previous post but I put the children on a shelf mentally and emotionally for this brief season of intense rehab. If my mind and heart went there it was overwhelming, so I did what was necessary for me to return with the best possible functioning.

As you will see from Karla’s posts from these days away five years ago, it was not easier for her to be at home with her heart divided and the home also divided if only by the current circumstances of life.

Karla, March 16, 2009 from home in Earlham:

“I keep thinking that being home will be relaxing, but it’s not!  I envision baking cookies, reading to the younger children, and playing games with the older boys.  I shouldn’t be surprised that it never works out that way, but I always am….

One of the most common comments I get is that it must be good to be home.  While I am thrilled to see the kids, it is actually “easier” to be in Rochester.  I put that in quotes because it is not easy, just easier.  Since Mike cannot always communicate well, I am always concerned when I am not there.  I care about him much more than anyone there does and feel a strong responsibility to be his advocate.

On that note, I “fired” the occupation therapist today.  That was a tough one to do from home!  The occupational therapists work on the activities of daily living, and particularly work with Mike’s right arm.  We had consistently not been happy with what she was doing, so I finally decided Mike had had enough.  It is too critical of a time to just put up with someone.  Talking to her supervisor was very hard, especially when she told me that they didn’t think Mike had a problem with the therapist.  I am hoping that tomorrow goes much better in that area, so we’ll see. 

Mike said that the other areas of therapy went well today.  I am hoping to see a lot of progress when I go back on Thursday. With the nice weather, Mike has also enjoyed getting to be outside some for the past three days.  It may get cold again, so I’m glad he is able to get out now.  He did try to escape on Saturday.  The sun was not in the courtyard area, so he just wanted me to wheel him out the front door onto the street.  He wears clothes now, so we probably could have gotten away with it, except for some reason the hospital wants their wheelchairs to stay there!

With Elisabeth being sick, I was able to have some good conversation with just Gabbie tonight [Gabbie was 6 years old at this time].  She is very happy when I am home, and sad when I am not.  We have worked out a plan to help her be happy when I am gone again.  She also said that she just wants everything back to normal.  She followed this up with saying that she knows Dad still won’t be able to do a lot, but it will seem normal to have her whole family back together.  She also must have said at least 10 times today, “I really love my whole family.”  Now that warms a mother’s heart!”

Karla, March 17, 2009 from home:

“I talked to Mike twice today, and both times he was very positive and upbeat.  It sounds like occupational therapy went much better today, so I did the right thing yesterday in requesting a new therapist.  Mike is anxious for me to get back up there as he thinks he does better when I am there.  Hopefully I won’t take the flu bug with me!  A few people have been wondering about what will happen when Mike is discharged from St. Marys. 

I had mentioned previously that he would probably transfer to an inpatient program in Des Moines.  That is not the plan now.  Last Friday we were told that the rehab team believes he will be ready to come home.  The main issue is the number of stairs we have to get to the shower and bedroom.  I am hoping that he can lift his leg by the time I get back and those problems will be solved… 

Two more came down with the stomach virus today.  Jared did not feel well all day and Benj started vomiting at about 3.  I am beginning to think that the bathroom is a large petri dish and plan to go clean it as soon as I am done with this post!  Elisabeth is much better, so it looks like the girls will be able to join my mom and sisters on a trip to Kansas City.  I am glad they have something fun to look forward to as I leave again.

A friend offered to run some errands for me in Des Moines today. What a nice surprise that was!  I was wondering how I was going to get that done, and she took care of it for me!

I’m off to clean the bathroom and go to bed.  I have been doing laundry nonstop, thanks to all the kids getting sick.  I’ll even get a load done before I wake up because my washing machine has a timer on it.  What a great feature!  I’m still going with my thought that this is the same strain of flu that Gabbie had a couple weeks ago, and planning on no one else getting sick tomorrow.  That would be a great day!”

As I read these two posts I am reminded of just how thankful I am for Karla and appreciative I am for how God has uniquely wired her with certain strengths. I had been expressing to Karla my frustration with the Occupational Therapist, but did not have the ability to say anything about it in a way that would be helpful. I am so glad that Karla took the initiative to have my OT “fired” as she puts it. I hit it off immediately with Stefano and was able to make much progress in a brief time. Plus, it was just weird having a young woman help me take a shower, even if she was just doing her job. I was still taking a shower by sitting in a special chair at this time, but even so…I didn’t have many clothes on my skinny body!

Blog comment from Tom Curtright, a friend and fellow pastor on March 18, 2009

Dear Mike,

Wow, what a battle this has been. I’ve always appreciated your competitive nature. Even little things like playing Frisbee. My hand hurts thinking about it. God has blessed you with a level of intensity and determination that has been necessary for such a trial. We are keeping track of your progress and look forward to speaking with you. But will wait until you have more time to bounce back. Keep bringing your full bore intensity to each and every therapy time. I can see the mountains from where I write and still plan that one day we will climb some of them. I wish Brenda and I were with you and Karla. I’m sure that if we fired up a few game of sequence and catch phrase, we’d see a few thousand more neurons reconnect, just so we could win.

Karla-
I think of the vows couple make when they get married and how easily the vows are broken. When I think of the way you have been in the battle for Mike in every conceivable way, I think of you as model of how God wants us to be toward our spouse. I know your focus is on Mike, but be sure to do little things to take care of yourself and do little things to fill your tank. In the long run, that will be not only helpful for you but also Mike. Keep fighting the good fight. We love and pray for you all. TC

Karla, Blog posting from March 18, 2009 How We Have Endured This Trial

“Many thoughts have been ruminating in my mind regarding how we have endured this trial.  I read a sermon this morning that fueled those thoughts anew.

I do not follow many blogs or check out many websites on a regular basis.  But one that I do is the Desiring God website.  John Piper was our pastor from September, 1988 until June, 1992.  Mike was an apprentice at the church during that time and one of the benefits was that I got to go to the apprentice wives’ gatherings led by Noel Piper and another pastor’s wife.  Mike also discipled Benjamin Piper, so we got to know the family quite well.  From the time that Mike became a pastor himself, I have always looked back to Pastor John when I need extra pastoral encouragement.

That is why I check out the Desiring God website.  Today there was a sermon from 1980 entitled Christ and Cancer, which I assumed would have something to say about what we are going through.  It did.  It reaffirmed much of what I know to be true and encouraged me to stay the course.

 

Let me just go through some of my thoughts on how we have endured this trial.  One of the main things is that God has been faithful in the past so I know He will be faithful now.  I look back at all of the trials Mike and I have had in our 22 years of marriage, and all the experiences in my own 43 years, and I see that God was preparing us for this mother of all trials.  Here are some of the things God has done.

My brother has had seizures since he was a baby.  This affected me greatly as a teenager, but eventually led me to see that I do not know very much and pushed me to Christ.  It also allowed me to watch my family.  My parents stayed married through it all, when many they knew did not.  This is a great example of how God was faithful to me before I even knew Him.

We have many memories of God’s financial provision during our graduate school years.  Car repairs were paid for, dental bills taken care of, always enough money to pay for our needs. We have had many smaller health issues, and one seemingly larger one,  over the years, usually involving me.  Following the birth of Gabbie, I had shortness of breath and low heart rate for some reason that was never discovered.  I don’t like the unknown, and I now see that this helped to somewhat prepare me to face Mike’s unknown issues with the AVM.

We lost an unborn child that was due exactly four years ago.  At the time I had been through no harder trial.  God sustained us, and then blessed us with Jared. On February 26th, Mike had the open heart surgery.  The next week I said that I had made it through the worst day of my life and I am glad that is over!  I know there are more difficult days ahead, hopefully a long way ahead, but I made it through that one, with many evidences of God being merciful to me on that day.

God has ministered to us through His word, in prayer, in music, and by the encouragement of others.  The hope of heaven is more glorious than ever, since Mike was so near to it.  I have spent much more time thinking about eternity, which is a good thing.  I have had to only hope in God as all earthly supports couldn’t take away the problem and the pain.

This quote from Pastor John’s sermon really struck a chord with me.  I am thankful for the purification and strengthening of my faith by this trial! “Satan may be sly but on some things he is stupid, because he fails to see that all his attempts to despoil the godly are simply turned by God’s providence into occasions for the purifying and strengthening of faith. God’s goal for his people in this age is not primarily to rid them of sickness and pain, but to purge us of all the remnants of sin and cause us in our weakness to cleave to him as our only hope.”

Real Time Reflections from Five Years ago #16

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“All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And  I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday! ” Mike

Picture to the left is of Golgotha, “the place of the skull” in Jerusalem, one of two possible sites where Jesus was crucified. Karla and I had the opportunity to visit Israel in February 2011.

March 14-15th, 2009

Karla (Saturday March 14, 2009)

As I was driving into Rochester at 8:30 this morning, I received a call from Luke asking where I was.  I told him I was almost to the hospital and he said that he was already there!

One of the missionaries we support is briefly back from Paraguay and really wanted to see Mike.  So a group of 3 adult (although I did ask them how old they are) men and Luke arrived at the hospital at 6:30 this morning for a two hour visit.  It sounds like they had a great time, although Mike may need to recover from all the laughing!  His chest still hurts quite a bit when he laughs.  They also used all his best words for the day.  I’m hoping I get some after he has a nap!

Mike had a great day yesterday.  I was able to attend most of his therapy sessions.  It is amazing that physical therapy works.  I still don’t get it.  They started by telling Mike to look at his hand and think about moving it.  Then they had him move his left hand while they move his right.  Eventually he was able to move on the right.  It makes no sense.  That it is pretty much how everything has worked.

Yesterday he was working on walking from side to side.  He held onto a windowsill and a bar and moved both directions.  In the morning, the therapist had to help his right foot move.  In the afternoon session, she didn’t.  I am definitely going to have to research this to figure out how it works!

Several people have expressed concern over his hand not working as well as his leg.  He was up and walking on March 4th and his arm did not start to work until March 9th.  We were told that usually the leg works first and then the arm, and this is the pattern that Mike has followed.  So, while others were worried about this, I was not.  Of course, we don’t know what the final result will be, but progress usually continues through the first year following AVM surgery….

Next week will be the first week that Mike has a full slate of therapy.  They held off on some of the non-essentials (recreational therapy) to give him time to heal from the cardiac surgery.  He still has pain with laughing and some movements, but is doing much better in that area.

I am hoping to get some good talking time in today!  He only has two therapy sessions today, so hopefully he’ll be more awake.  I am heading home tomorrow to spend a few more days at home.  Mike may be posting sometime this weekend, so stay tuned!

Mike’s post from March 14th,2009 (first post post-open heart surgery, which was on Feb. 26th. I posted once on Feb. 24th after the brain surgery and blood infection, naively thinking that that would be as bad as it would get. Ha!)

  • “Thank you to all of you who have joined us on this roller coaster ride.  Strap your seat belts on and join in the great adventure!  I am eternally grateful for every last one of you!  After all, if the prayers (of just one) righteous person are powerful and accomplishes much, then there is surely much more power in the prayers of many.
  • The brain is more than just a machine that one turns on…it is a vastly complex interworking of muscle groups, neurons, etc.  that I think God largely hides from man.  The intricacies of modern science have allowed access to all of the major organs of the body…except the brain.  “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God that God should repay?  For from Him , through Him, and to Him is everything.  To God be the glory forever and ever….”
  • Progress is being made every day.  All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And  I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday!  Various leg motions heretofore unrecorded, practically dry my tears.  It’s about getting systems working again.

I had an unexpected visit today from 4 friends and my 16 year old son (son is included in friends) who left Earlham today at 3:30 A.M.! (posting took 1 hour).”

Mike’s take on this post. What was I thinking when I wrote that the brain had muscle groups? I was a biology major right? Well, tonight five years later, I checked it out. And it turns out that my original statement is not that far from reality. No, of course the brain is not a muscle. It is an organ…a very important one.

And actually there is a physical connection between the brain and muscles. It is called the neuromuscular junction and chemical exchanges that happen at this junction are the key to our ability to move. However, it is like a muscle in that the more individual parts of the brain are used the larger it will become. London taxi drivers for example have very large hippocampi because that is the part of the brain that deals with spatial mapping. Also, like muscles, the more one uses a particular part of the brain the more blood is pumped to that area to provide energy. The more you use it the better it works.

One scientifically oriented site I looked at today suggested thinking of your brain as a muscle. So I guess technically I was not correct in suggesting that the brain is a muscle, but it is intimately related to what any individual or group of muscles does.

I also continue to stand in awe of the human brain. It is an amazing three pound organ that God has uniquely given the capacity to adapt and rewire itself, even into old age. Brain exercises are important!  As I read my own words from five years ago “Progress is being made every day.  All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday!” Prior to March 13th, I had never moved my leg or raised my arm at all. Unless you have experienced a temporary or permanent paralysis in a part of your body you cannot understand what a joyful moment it was to comprehend that some movement was returning! It was invigorating. I hope that you will never be able to relate.

I was also surprised by some early morning visitors yesterday five years ago. My son Luke and three other friends from Earlham stopped in on this Saturday morning and stayed for nearly two hours. It was a great visit and a good surprise! I remember it well, because of the ruckus in the room early on a Saturday morning.

It was good to laugh although it was also physically painful. I think it was worth it. To see my son Luke and company just made my day. Then as quickly as they had appeared they disappeared…for another four hour ride home.

I hadn’t intended on putting Karla’s entire summary of the events thus far, but I thought she did such a nice job summarizing the saga in this article for our local newspaper, the Earlham Advocate, that I decided to include it in its entirety. And again I would reiterate what Karla mentions in this article regarding the support we received from the Earlham community and church.  It was great. After returning home, Connie Ramsey quietly drove me to my outpatient rehab appointments at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines several times a week for the better part of three months.

By Karla on March 15th, 2009

“We were asked to write an article for the local newspaper and I thought it might be a good recap of what has gone on.  Obviously it does not have all of the details, but I found it good to go back through the whole ordeal thus far and see how far we have come! So, here it is…

Having lived in Earlham for twelve and a half years, I have come to appreciate many of the benefits of living in a small town.  What first bothered me as everyone knowing my business now encourages me, as so many who “know our business” care about what is going on in our lives.  Many of you know that my husband, Mike Evans, went to Mayo Clinic for the surgical removal of a large arteriovenous malformation (AVM:  mass of intertwined arteries and veins) from the left frontal lobe of his brain.  The surgery took place on February 12th, and by medical standards was a success, as the AVM no longer exists. 

However, you cannot do such significant surgery on the brain without some repercussions.

Prior to heading up for surgery, we had anticipated being home by February 19th.  In our pre-surgical meeting with the neurosurgeon, Dr. Fredric Meyer told us that he expected Mike to come out of surgery with some deficits that would hopefully be temporary but would require inpatient rehabilitation.  This did turn out to be the case, with Mike not being able to talk or move his right side at all.

We were relieved when he spoke his first words two days after surgery.  Physical therapy started immediately and we were hoping for quick progress.  Those of you who know Mike know he is very driven, which we were assuming would serve him well as rehabilitation started.

Unfortunately, things did not go as we had planned.  Mike spent seven nights in the neuro ICU before moving to a general neuro floor.  After his first night there, he had a seizure do a temperature spike caused by a blood infection.  This took him back to the neuro ICU for another four nights so that they could get the 106 degree fever and infection under control.  This involved long periods of time on a cooling blanket while covered with ice bags and very strong antibiotics.  He was on antibiotics for 21 days and there is currently no indication that the blood infection is still there.

After this time in the ICU, it was back to the general floor to prove he was ready for rehab.  On the first night there, Mike was complaining of pain in his right leg which led to the discovery of a very large blood clot.  Usually this would be treated with blood thinners, but since Mike had just had brain surgery they did not want to risk a bleed.  Instead a filter was placed above the area where the clot was to prevent it from going to the heart or lungs where a clot can be fatal.

After two days he was ready for rehab!  The first night he experienced two seizures that were determined to be caused by low levels of the anti-seizure medication.  He had a great first full day in rehab, even walking on that first day.  The worst crisis was yet to come.  He awoke after the second night to have a small seizure, followed by a much larger one.  Thankfully I was in the room and was able to call a nurse immediately. 

During this seizure Mike coded and the nurses started CPR.  Mayo is an amazing place.  The neurosurgical fellow was there immediately, as well as a critical care doctor.  They got Mike stable enough to transport him back up to neuro ICU.  His blood pressure dropped and they were having a hard time keeping the heart beating strong enough to get oxygen to the rest of the body.  An ultrasound of the heart showed a large blood clot. 

The options were few.  We now know that most of the doctors did not expect Mike to live.  We believe it is God who had other plans.  Dr. Meyer came and told me that he had told the cardiac doctors to do whatever was necessary to save Mike’s life.   I signed the consent for open heart surgery and Mike was in the operating room within minutes.  The doctor who specializes in this surgery was on call that day and was not already in the middle of a surgery, so he was able to operate immediately.  This surgery is only done in two places in the country:  Mayo Clinic and somewhere in San Diego.  The surgeon was able to remove a 7 cm blood clot from the heart, as well as 20-30 smaller clots from the lungs. 

No one knew how long Mike’s brain had gone without oxygen or how far he would be set back.  When he woke up, his left side moved normally, which was a good sign that the right side of his brain was fine.  We were hoping that the same was true of the surgical side.  He started talking again shortly after coming off the ventilator, which was also a good sign.  As you can imagine, Mike was shocked to wake up and figure out that he had had open heart surgery.  He was not able to fully understand all that had happened until about five days after the surgery.  Six days following this surgery, he was back in rehab.

Mike re-entered the inpatient rehabilitation unit on March 4th.  There have been no bumps in the road so far.  He basically entered at the same point he had after the first surgery, so he had some ground to make up.  It has been quite a bit more difficult, given that he is recovering from open heart surgery and has pain from that.  He has lost a lot of weight, much of it from muscle loss.  Lying in a bed for three weeks is not good!

We are both people who like to do things quickly and rehab is slow.  He has been there twelve days and made much progress.  He can walk, although he cannot yet lift his leg.  His right arm started moving last Monday and he can now lift it slightly.  Progress is measured in small amounts.  On Saturday he was able to move his toes for the first time.  On Sunday he was able put his leg down flat on the bed when it was bent.  There is something new every day.

Mike’s speech also continues to improve.  He is still having trouble with word finding, but that is coming along better.  Last week he wrote a blog post in two hours and this week it took one hour.  That’s a huge improvement!  Of course, he wants everything back to normal now, but he understands it is a slow process.  We are hoping that Mike will be home within the next few weeks.  At that point he will begin outpatient physical therapy.

In Mike’s blog post this weekend, he put this Bible verse:  “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God that God should repay?  For from Him, through Him, and to Him is everything.  To God be the glory forever and ever….”  We both think that God has kept many things about the brain hidden from people lest they think too highly of themselves.  We do not at all understand why all of this has taken place as it has.  It is certainly not as we had planned.  But we are trusting in God, who understands, and created, Mike’s brain.  We give Him credit for keeping Mike safe through all of these complications and we do want all the glory to go to God!”

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #15

ImageKarla: “You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.”

This is the 15th in a series of blog posts we are doing in real time plus five years during our extreme adventures at Mayo where I spent 46 days in the hospital and rehab following brain surgery and all the massive complications that followed. Keep in mind that the brain surgery was on Feb. 12, 2009.

Karla’s take on March 11th-13th, 2009

As I think back to March 11-13, 2009, again, it is all still very fresh.  Getting back to Mayo after being gone for a few days allowed me to really see the improvements that Mike had made.  Looking back at the rehabilitation process, I am reminded of how painfully slow the progress seemed, and how we rejoiced at even the slightest movement of a finger or toe.  The reality of what rehab is like is impossibly hard to convey to anyone who has not observed it.  You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.  I can’t imagine how Mike felt being the one unable to do any of those things. After being home for a few days it was much easier to see what progress had been made.  Dr. Meyer had told us that it was easier for him to see progress when he came in if he only came every few days, and he was right.

While I was at home on this visit, I had talked with a builder in town about putting on an addition to the house so that we could have a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.  Our 1894 house was not built with recovering from brain surgery in mind!  By the time I went home the second time, We were not thinking any major changes would need to be made.  That is how quickly everything can change in rehab.  It is truly amazing!

What stood out to me looking back at the post from March 13 was that it was on that day that we first met Dr. Bergquist.  Prior to this Mike had gone to a group therapy session that was terrible.  He was not at all excited to meet with a psychologist one-on-one.  It turned out that Dr. Bergquist is a Christian, a homeschool dad, and even attends an Evangelical Free Church in Rochester.  How good of God to orchestrate events such that Dr. Bergquist would be Mike’s assigned psychologist!  We had no idea at the time how important he would become to us.  Over the past 16 months, Dr. Bergquist has been a great encourager to us.  He has sacrificed of his personal after hours time to have phone conferences with us.  He has been encouraging to Mike in that he understands ministry and brain injuries.  It seems highly unlikely to me that there would be another psychologist in the country that would so perfectly understand our situation and be able to help us even five years after brain surgery.

This is the last thing I wrote on the 13th:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”

After five years I still don’t understand God’s purposes, but I also still do trust him.  The events of the past 16 months have been the hardest of my life to understand.  As one who always wants to understand, I have greatly struggled with this.  But I think I am getting better at not understanding.  I’m okay with it now, but can’t say that I like it.  I do know that God has always shown himself to be faithful and trust that He will continue to do so.

Mike’s take on March 11-13th, 2009

Karla went home with the kids on Saturday afternoon March 7 and returned to Rochester with Benj on Wednesday the 11th.  It was tough having Karla away for those days but I knew that she needed to at least make an appearance at home for the kids’ sake. Rochester was four hours away from Earlham. Still is. I say it was tough not having Karla around for those days, but honestly I don’t recall missing her that much for those days. However, she insists that I told her that it had been difficult not having her around. So when my recollections are cloudy I almost always defer to my wife’s account of things.

I remember working as though my life depended on it in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I was also highly motivated to work hard in order to show off my newly acquired skillz, however lame they might seem now looking back! As Karla mentioned it is truly amazing what occurs in physical therapy as individual fingers and toes began coming back to life however slow and frustrating that progress may have been.

I include this post from Karla on the 11th and two comments posted to the blog during these days by two pastor friends of mine who came to visit me (though I still have no recollection at all of Randy Anderson ever coming to visit me…).

I share these now so that perhaps you can begin to understand how much things can change in a few days of highly concentrated effort. And let me tell you these hours were grueling, leaving me utterly exhausted at the end of each day.

(Karla, March 11th, 2009)

“…Benj and I arrived here at 1:30 today and I couldn’t wait to see Mike! He was gone when we got here, and we tracked him down in a hallway.  He was just finishing up walking up and down a ramp.  He is now able to move from the wheelchair to wherever he needs to be with just a little assistance from a nurse.  That is a big improvement!

Mike has also obviously been eating!  He is still skinny but his face looks much better.  I really did not like the gaunt look.  I think Gabbie will be much happier with the way he looks, too.  Our friends from Luther have taken it upon themselves to help fatten him up.  They stopped by briefly when they were in town, and brought a large bowl of Coldstone ice cream.  There is more than enough for after dinner!

Benj and I went to speech therapy with Mike.  He is very frustrated with the speed with which his speech is improving.  The speech therapist today was very encouraging.  She asked him questions about his beliefs and he was able to articulate what he wanted to, albeit slowly.  She made a point of saying that for the time being it is best to try to say things simply, even though he normally wouldn’t do that.  That is very difficult for him.  She mentioned that other clients she has seen who are intelligent are also frustrated with the simplicity and speed.  I personally thought it was a good conversation!

I drove the car up instead of the van, so I switched CDs, although I still listened to just Sovereign Grace CDs!  I was listening to The Valley of Vision CD.  It reminded me of when Mike asked someone who was visiting to read the 23rd Psalm.  The person asked why, to which he said, “I’ve been to the valley of the shadow of death and I’m still here.”  It’s a hard place to be, thankful for being alive but not progressing as fast as he wants.  We are all working hard to keep the right perspective!”

(From Randy Anderson, a fellow pastor)

Dear Mike and Karla,
I was so encouraged to hear your voice the other day — you sounded like yourself; compared to my earlier glimpse into your world this was HUGELY encouraging.  I have just finished my 6th day with Inluenza A — I am not a big fan. However as I begin day 7 at 85-90% my normal self and think of what you have been through and what you must still accomplish recovery-wise — I am moved to pray for you.

O how I take my relatively good health for granted!! I ought to be filled with thanksgiving for health every single day that I have it — radiant with praise for it — that ought to be my daily attitude. But alas I get lost in my daily blessings and fail to see them at all.

You mention Psalm 23 in your latest — I would remind you of the hopeful situation within which we live according to the close of the Psalm — we live sandwiched between these two things —

Behind us it is certain that goodness and mercy are following us all the days of our lives. And so goodness and mercy are following you into therapy today, and not just any goodness and mercy but God’s goodness and God’s mercy. And then the even more hopeful thought — we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever — that is what is out ahead — that is what is certainly out there. We are live between ‘goodness and mercy’ and ‘the house of the Lord forever.’ Some day Mike we will take a walk in the Bighorns in the New Heaven and the New Earth — in my glorified state I won’t be as cranky as J. Mochel either.

Praying for you both,

Randy Anderson

Tim Trudeau, a fellow pastor who had come to visit me on Sunday the 8th left this comment which may give you a better appreciation for what occurs in physical therapy. I clearly remember Tim’s visit because it was so timely. Karla had left for home Saturday and this was Sunday, a nothing day in rehab. So it was a great delight for Tim to come and visit and wheel me up to the beautiful chapel area to talk. I think this was one of the first times I had left the rehab floor. Freedom!

Dear Mike,

After watching you pull your seemingly lifeless leg up by grabbing your pants, and kick at your right foot with your left to get it to move, watching you walk down the hallway yesterday was like watching something out of the Bible, after Jesus said, “Get up and walk.” Your life is now the stuff of legend; the kind of thing people write books about.

We all know life is a gift, but we forget; your life is a reminder. Persevere in therapy, knowing that your every gain in mobility and memory is our joy as well as yours, and you are writing a chapter in the story of your life that cries out, “Glory!” in a way most of us will never experience.

I was glad to hear that though some words escape you, your grammar is still impeccable. If you weren’t such a good pastor, I’d say you should be teaching English!

Tim Trudeau

Ha ha Tim, this comment makes me chuckle! But sometimes you just need to take the bull by the horns, or the leg by the pants if the leg won’t move, and deal with it till it does work. By this time I had no worries about the leg movement coming back because I had some minor movement in my big toe and was able to straighten out my leg when it was propped up at an angle. No worries. It was now just a matter of time and effort and getting the systems working again.

Karla also mentioned Dr. Bergquist, a Christian man, a psychologist who was a very unique gift from God to us at just the right time, and with whom we have remained in contact. He not only is an excellent psychologist who understands brain trauma, but he also understands ministry.

I too have found the past 16 months and losing my job as the pastor of Crossroad Church after nearly eighteen years, to have been harder even than what we have been trying to explain in these last 15 Reflections in Real Time from five years ago. Yes that is correct. There is physical pain and then there is emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain that occurs in churches and relationships that in many ways is even more painful and confusing than anything else.

The final words that Karla wrote on March 13, 2009 were as follows:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”

Indeed.

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #14

March 8-10th, 2009

Where is God when liDSC_2264fe hurts? This is the 14th in a series of Real Time Reflections from five years ago today as my family and I were in the throes of an F5 tornado. Some of these reflections will be included in the book I am currently writing regarding our experiences five years ago up to the present time.

Before I write about what occurred on March 8th-10th , 2009 I need to back up to Saturday March 7th when the children all came up to visit me.

Regarding the 7th Karla wrote:

“Mike and I both thought that Saturday was a very good day!  It started after a good night’s sleep for Mike and ended with me getting home for a couple days with the kids.

What a joy it was to have the kids up to visit Mike!  They were all relieved that other than being much thinner, Dad is looking pretty good.  We reserved the dining room so that we could all eat pizza together.  We decided that Mike needs to eat pizza more often because he eats a lot of it!

Then it was off to physical therapy where everyone was impressed that he was walking and going up and down the short set of steps.  The girls were at the gift shop when Mike started, so they didn’t know he was walking.  As they were coming down the hall, you could hear Elisabeth say very excitedly, “Look!  Dad’s walking!”  He was also able to hold a large size dowel and work on picking it up and down.  He ended that session by walking from the therapy gym back to his room.  Quite amazing!

PT was closely followed by occupational therapy.  Mike was pretty wiped out after that, so we got ready to head for home.  He was so happy to get to see the kids!  Luke even played the songs from a piano performance we had missed, which Mike thoroughly enjoyed…”

Later on the 9th regarding the Saturday visit by the children:

“…Mike still has his sense of humor, but some of the nurses don’t.  As the kids and I were getting ready to leave last Saturday, Mike was overconfident in his newly acquired skills and thought he could get from the wheelchair to the bed by himself.  He was not at quite the right angle and was leaning too far toward his weak side and fell over on the bed.  He landed on the heart pillow all open heart patients get so that they can hug it when they cough.  This apparently helps with pain.  Mike just laid down, saying with a smile, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.  Goodnight!”  We all got a good chuckle out of it.  We did need to call the nurse in to help.  We managed to get him upright before she came in.  She asked what he needed, to which he replied, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”  Saying that he’d fallen got quite a rise out of her!  We assured her he hadn’t and was just joking.  She really did need to have a sense of humor!

On a more serious note, Mike said he had another productive day of therapy.  They added another session of speech therapy, which pleased him.  He would like to see things improve more quickly in that area.  He was also able to lift his arm for the first time.  He had not even done that prior to open heart surgery day.  I talked to him at around 8 tonight and he was exhausted.  I am glad he is able to get good sleep now!  I am anxious to see the improvements he’s made when I get back there on Wednesday.”

Why? Why? Why? Safety even in doubt and despair.

 Mike’s first post, post-emergency open heart surgery: March 8, 2009

“After going through serious brain surgery for the removal of a peach-sized brain AVM, experiencing sleep deprivation for what seemed like 100 days on end, a blood infection, at least 22 blood clots in my lungs…one of which was 7 centimeters in length, open heart surgery, and who knows what else (I haven’t even read my own blog for nearly 25 days)  I can honestly report to you all that the  LORD is still my strength and my song.

And that my wife Karla is precious beyond compare!  Not only for enduring all that she has had to go through, but also for updating and informing all of you at the tail end of many rough days.

I am still largely “out” on my right side, meaning I have very little movement there.  The substance of my right side movement is a slight movement in my thumb.  While I cannot yet lift my leg, I can somehow walk…. even unassisted!   I also have good resistance strength.  I am able to resist one way yet not in others.

Anyway keep praying! (posting took 2 hrs)”

As I read these words five years out I think to myself how could it possibly have taken me two hours to write just 184 words? That’s just over 1-1/2 words per minute! I try to choose my words carefully, but that is ridiculous. And it’s not as if I was distracted. I was sitting in a chair focusing all of my mental and emotional energy on this post after an exhausting day of therapy. I think this was the first time that I had really stepped back to take a clear look at the realities at hand. I had just been through brain surgery and massive complications that nearly ended my life, and was just coming to terms with these facts. And they were overwhelming to me. I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I wrote this post.

Seeing the children on Saturday had been a huge encouragement for me. But now once again I again had to put them on a shelf emotionally so I could focus on giving them the best possible dad with the best possible functioning when I would be going home in what would turn out to be less than 3 weeks (on the 27th of March). If I let my mind go toward my children I would have been an emotional wreck.

Physical trials and sufferings not only weaken otherwise strong and proud people physically, but they also weaken them emotionally as well. I had no idea how weak I could be. Karla was my greatest earthly support and as I wrote “precious beyond compare.” I still feel that way about my wife of 27 years as the trials have made our marriage stronger and more precious.

Richard Sibbes, a Puritan once wrote in a book called the Bruised Reed, (in the year 1630) “After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.” Karla and I have experienced this bruising in a way that we will never be able to forget.

As I read from my posting on this day I confidently wrote “I can honestly say to you all that the LORD is still my strength and my song.” I believed it then and I believe it now as I type these words today, five years later. However, this does not mean that my faith did not experience any bumps in the road.

On March 2-3rd, 2009 the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church was having their annual meeting in Des Moines, Ia. Normally I would have attended. I have many friends in the E. Free Church. One good friend of mine took it upon himself to find a quote from a regular Patros Logos article that I had written earlier for the home-school newsletter in our state, (2000-present). He brought it to this conference,  had it put on an 18 by 23 inch poster, which he had laminated…upon which three dozen people expressed their well wishes for us.

The words of mine that were on this placard were as follows: “…God is in control. Regardless of the tribulations and trials we may undergo, all of these tribulations and trials are under the hand of an Almighty God, who is not only all-powerful, but He is also good and loving in all of His ways toward us. Mike Evans, from Brothers Be Empowered By Providence

This friend sent it to me in a round cardboard tube and I had it put up in the room for me to look at. I think it arrived somewhere between March 8-10th.  It was on the wall at the end of my bed. I had previously believed these words and taught this theological truth for many years. Now I found myself coming face to face with whether I actually believed them or not. When the rubber met the road, and I had nothing left in the tank, so to speak, did I really believe that God was in control? Did I really believe that He had a hand in this trial? Did I really believe that God was good and loving toward me in these days?

I lay awake at night staring at these words I had written by my own hand, asking myself these questions. I was uneasy. I was offended. My own words made me queasy. In fact I remember asking Karla to put something over this poster to hide the words…for a day or two. It is a difficult thing to explain a feeling of doubt. But that’s what it was. No doubt about it. It was a doubt based not upon my prior experience or belief, but based entirely upon my present circumstances. I knew better than to let any present circumstance dictate prior beliefs, but it was a struggle. I kept looking at these words, particularly at night when doubts do their dabbling. Wrestling.

I had always told the people I have shepherded over the years the importance of having their doctrine and theology (beliefs about God and His ways) in place before the difficult things came their way. In fact I had even told them that I would not be standing at their bedside after a tragic event quoting Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” On the contrary it has always been my intention to weep with those who wept, not give them a double wound.

Here I was, weak and helpless, brain surgery that had left me paralyzed on the entire right side of my body and unable to speak in the early days…only to be followed by sleepless night upon sleepless night in the ICU, only to be followed by a blood infection, blood clots, and finally emergency open heart surgery. So here more than three weeks from the original brain surgery and I can only move my toe and my thumb a very little bit.

This is when I actually began to think of just exactly what the absolute sovereignty of God entails. And this is what I have come to believe. The absolute sovereignty of God is either the most hellish and damnable lie in the universe or the only true source of comfort in any and every trial. The line between these two statements is separated by a razor blade’s width and yet which direction one falls determines everything about how we view God and ourselves. Everything.

I have come to realize that there is no comfort at all in a middle of the road position between these two statements. If there is anything at all that happens in this universe apart from the eternal perspective of One who sees the beginning from the end and takes every possible contingency into account in His providential ordering of everything, in love, then there must be some events that are outside of His governance. And if there are any events that are outside of His governance then I reject the proposition outright as that of an impotent god. An impotent god is no god in my estimation, but rather a god of our own making. God’s got guts. He has a very strong stomach indeed. And yet He is also able to sympathize with us and enter with us in our weaknesses, trials and sufferings.

I realize that this is a wholly inadequate explanation of why evil and suffering exist from the human vantage point (theodicy). It is not my intention to give simplistic answers to complex and unanswerable questions. What had happened to me was not good. God worked good from the depths of our trial, just as He had promised.

But in non-moral things there are ways of acknowledging the coinciding of God’s absolute sovereignty and human responsibility. For example, what is the relationship between what I have said regarding the absolute sovereignty of God and prayer?

I believe with all of my heart that prayer makes a difference in what God does or does not do. I believe that I am alive today because of the prayers of tens of thousands of people throughout the world that were storming the throne of God on my behalf on the day I coded. The blog had 5,790 hits on that one day alone.

But I also believe that God ordained those prayers be made on my behalf. Every single one of them. We are responsible to pray and God is responsible to work His sovereign will (prompting people to pray). Both occurred on that day and every day. Praise be to God!

I had written the words in front of me on the laminated poster during a time of relative ease and comfort. Now they both offended and comforted me simultaneously. I am glad to have had that experience of doubt and wondering if I really did believe it all.

I remember hearing John Piper say in a sermon once how followers of Jesus could rest safely inside the impenetrable walls of Romans 8:28, where nothing could touch them. That was what I was experiencing even in these very real doubts that came on the heels of the most traumatic month of my life. I never want to experience that again…both the trauma and the doubting. But then God doesn’t consult us regarding His plans.

Nothing did ultimately touch me. My faith in God and His plans and purposes in all things are stronger than ever. My understanding of God’s ways, however, continue to be a conundrum in my mind. But then God does not ask me how He should work, does He. Nope, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). From our earth bound perspective God’s ways often if not always seem to be manifestly inefficient. But then again God sees the big picture from the tallest mountain, with nothing but loving purposes in mind.

The Human Condition and all that Pertains to it

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