Honestly, I don't feel like writing today. I don't feel like saying anything. Past experience reminds me, however, that on the days I don't feel like writing it's usually because I need to write. Along with past experience is a recent experience, which I will write about later in this post, in which I was challenged by a hospital chaplain to write the truth of what was in my mind and heart, not just what I thought people would "want" to read, but what they "need" to read. So, even though I don't feel like writing today, I'm going to anyway.
Many of you know that my girls and I have been in Washington State since the middle of November to help take care of my dad, who is fighting brain cancer. To try to count the number of precious moments my girls and I have had with my dad and family since we've been here would be impossible. Even though it has been incredibly difficult to watch my dad, my hero, suffer tremendously, I wouldn't trade one second of the time we've had together. We had a lot of catching up to do.
Christmas Day began with our tradition of having the girls open their stockings and a few gifts before heading over to have breakfast at my sister's house. They took over the tradition of breakfast at Grandma Peggy's house after she passed away six years ago. My brother-in-law prepares a delicious breakfast every year and we have had the privilege of being here for three of those years. Usually, it's Dad, Mom, myself, my two sisters, our husbands, and our children. This year was my first Christmas apart from Josh since we met fifteen years ago, so of course that meant it was the first Christmas our girls were apart from their daddy, too. We were all feeling the empty spot at the table, but were determined to have a good day. We finished our feast and gathered in the living room to open each others gifts. My dad was extremely weak and so tired, but he wanted to stay and watch his grandchildren. Like I said, he's my hero.
Eventually, my mom took him home (which is conveniently right next door to my sister's house) and then she came back to help us pack up gifts and clean up. However, the conversation and mood had turned to anything but a holly-jolly Christmas. All we could talk about was how we were going to take care of my dad. He was getting too weak for my Mom and I to handle when the caregiver wasn't there. Even when the caregiver was there, who is an amazing lady, she still had to ask for my help at times when my dad needed to get from one place in the house to the other. We were beginning to realize the need for things to help him be safer and more comfortable.
But most of all, there was the elephant in the room. You know, the one you try to push in the closet and hope it doesn't pop out. It was the one question no one wants to know the answer to... "Is this our last Christmas with Dad?" There! The elephant is out of the closet. I said it. Do I feel better? Not really. But, I've come to realize in hindsight that the "elephant" was probably what led to the events that happened later in the day. I'll get to that in a minute. We finished cleaning up, and put our conversations about hospital beds, facilities, doctors, etc, on hold and went back to my parents' house to rest until our small family dinner later that evening.
Around noon, I began to have very strange sensations and sounds in both of my ears. It was like every sound was magnified 1000x normal, yet both ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton balls. I couldn't think straight, and I began to feel the all too familiar "boat rocking" sensation of vertigo begin. My first thought was that I was getting a migraine, so I decided to lie down and drink a cup of decaf coffee and have some dark chocolate. I can't handle the amount of caffeine in regular coffee, so the combination of decaf and chocolate usually works for me to stave off a major migraine. However, things went from bad to worse and in a matter of a couple hours, the room was spinning.
When I say spinning, I'm not talking about a slow spin, like when you first get on the Tea Cup ride at Disneyland, and you're in control of how fast you spin. I'm talking about the room spinning in every direction all at the same time, like in an aerotrim. An aerotrim is a gyroscope large enough to contain a human being, used for cardiovascular workout and balance training in pilots and astronauts. See the picture below.
Notice how happy the woman in the picture is? I can guarantee you, I was not smiling. In fact, I was physically ill. I somehow managed to keep my head completely still and eat some dinner in my room while the rest of my family was at the table for Christmas dinner. Sometime after that, by the mercy of God, I fell asleep. I woke up several hours later, around 2:00am and tried to get out of bed to use the restroom. I fell on the floor. I called my mom's cell phone and told her I needed help to the bathroom. When I got back to my room, I began to throw up. At that point, I realized I needed to go to the hospital. I had no idea what was causing the severe vertigo, but I had never experienced it so violently in my life. So, my sister came over to stay with Dad and the kids and off to the ER we went.
I can't remember how many hours later it was when my mom told me she was going out to the car to try to take a little nap, but then came back crying. I thought she was going to tell me that my blood test results were back and it was bad news. Well, it was bad news, but not about me. My sister had called to say that the paramedics were on their way to the ER with my dad. At the time, they were suspecting that he had had a stroke, but weren't sure if it was that or a seizure. Either way, his left side was paralyzed. I could not believe what I was hearing. And I could not believe that I was too sick to go see him across the ER. We waited for them to do preliminary imaging and make sure my dad was stabilized and then they prepared to transfer him to Swedish Hospital in Seattle, where all of his doctors are.
I was worried about my girls. They had watched him being taken away by the paramedics. I knew how sensitive they were and I was so afraid for Hailey. I didn't want the stress to trigger an attack in her body, as it so often does. I was so sad. I was so mad. I was SO frustrated! Why? Why, when my dad needed us the most, was I not able to be with him? I had been here for almost two months taking care of him every day, only to have the most important thing happen and be completely helpless myself. I did not understand. I asked if the paramedics could at least roll his gurney next to my room so I could wave and say goodbye to him, which they did. I am so grateful for them. At that point, I had no idea what the future held for my dad and there was no way I wasn't going to tell him that I loved him before they took him to Seattle.
The ER Dr. admitted me into the hospital later that afternoon. I found out late that evening, after my dad had gotten to Seattle for an MRI, that it was indeed a stroke. I just cried. There was nothing else to do at that moment. I was completely alone. I hung up with my mom and just cried and prayed until a nurse came in to take my vitals. I was so sick, so dizzy, so helpless, and so alone. Did I mention alone? I know that I am never truly alone and that God is with me always but, I had never felt so alone in my entire life. This is the part where the hospital chaplain's challenge to me comes in.
I didn't actually see him until the third day of being there, but it was perfect timing. I was too sick before then to have even been able to hold a real conversation with anyone. We began to talk and he listened to me patiently tell him what had happened since I had been there. He kept hearing me say over and over again things like, "But I know God is with me. God has His hand on this. God is taking care of my Dad. God is taking care of my kids." He looked at me and said, "I hear you saying all of these things, but I want you to tell me what you're feeling inside right now. What are your fears? What are your worries? Are you angry? Are you feeling alone? Tell me what you're feeling. Don't tell me what you know about your faith. Tell me what you don't know about your faith." What?
At first, I was shocked. I wondered what kind of a chaplain was this? He certainly wasn't seeming to be encouraging. He wanted me to tell him all of my bad feelings and stop talking about my faith. But all of a sudden, a dawning occurred to me. I needed to put aside my Christian "lingo," my "game face," my "super-woman" complex for just a minute and actually allow myself to feel the full weight of my emotions, my fears, my confusion, and my anger. I started to tell him how alone I had been feeling. That my husband was in Virginia and my family was in Seattle, where I wanted to be. I felt like I was 3,000 miles away again, as I have been for over six years now. I was angry. I was confused. I could not understand the timing of the events. I was worried about my dad, I was worried about my mom, I was worried about my daughter getting sick, I was worried about myself. How long was this relentless vertigo going to last? Why now? Why was I sick AGAIN?!
In that moment I realized what God had sent that chaplain to tell me. He sent him to tell me that it's OK to be scared. It's OK to be mad. It's OK to be human. I've been trying to be strong for so long, not truly facing my fears head on, and my body finally said, "Enough is enough. You can't do this anymore." He told me that God knows I'm a woman of faith, a woman after His heart, and His will. But that he needs me to be honest with him and be more real with him than I ever have been before. That was the key to my body beginning to get better. The chaplain asked me what were some things that I do that bring me joy and peace. I told him that I sing and write songs, I write on my blog, I go to the ocean, etc. That was when he challenged me.
He said, "I bet your blog is full of scripture and encouragement, right?" I said, "Well, yes." He said, "You are a woman of faith. Anyone who knows you knows that about you, right? But what I want to challenge you to do is to write about what people can identify with. Fear, worry, anger, etc. You are always going to bring God glory, no matter what you write. It's in you, you can't help that. So, have the courage to write honestly about what you're going through. Because it's the pain that people like me identify with. It's the agony about their loved one. It's the frustration at the timing of events like this. That's what they relate to. That's what they need to know they're not alone in walking through. The encouragement will come, yes. But, for a moment, they need to be in the dark pit with you before you can show them how God helped you climb out."
I was floored. I was challenged, indeed. I was humbled....I was in the hospital for four days. The vertigo barely let up, even to the point when I was discharged to go home. I spun and spun, cried and cried, and prayed and prayed. Josh had to come out to take care of me a couple days after I'd been released. I wish it wouldn't have been because of being so sick, but at least we got to see him for over a week. It was much needed tangible strength for my girls and I. My husband is amazing. God knew just the right time to send him to us.
I will never fully understand the reasons why I got so sick right before my Dad had his stroke. One thing I do know is that I don't think I could have handled finding him that morning, unable to move his left side. And, from what my sisters have told me, I don't think I could have handled seeing him in the hospital for that week after the stroke. My body was already completely stressed, which is what the Dr's determined caused the attack in the first place. So, I can't imagine what would have happened had I not already been in the care of doctors during that time. I do not believe that God causes illness. He is our Healer. But, I do believe that he allows us to go through things at specific times for very specific reasons. I believe my hospitalization was His divine protection over me. I really do. It gave me time to grieve alone, without worrying about making my kids sad. It gave me time to pray and intercede for hours upon hours. It gave my kids a chance to get to know their other family members and friends who were so wonderful to step in and help take care of them. I am so grateful to God for every good thing that came out of this horrible situation. As I always say, He is forever faithful.
There is so much more to say, however, I feel that I should end for now. Please keep my Dad and my family in your prayers. We need prayer like we've never needed it before. Thank you.