I imagine most of us have fairly straightforward pictures in our heads about what our lives will look like and who we will become. These pictures are mostly of wonderful things that happen at exactly the right time and make oh-so-much sense. When something happens that is not inside the four corners of that picture, we view it as a detour and hope to get back on track as quickly as possible.
So what happens when you take a detour and can’t ever get back on that original path again?
I can tell you. The greatest detour anyone can take in life, I imagine, is a near-death experience.
Six months and five days after our beautiful, big-eyed baby James was born, I nearly died of a massive brain stem stroke. My family’s journey over the past seven years has been arduous and so achingly slow that at times my husband and I have wondered how we could go on.
I’ve had eleven surgeries since my stroke. I’ve fought my way back to being able to do the most basic things again, and yet many disabilities remain. I can’t do so many things I used to do and long to do now, and there is a profound sense of loss that lingers. Sometimes it feels like I’m an observer of my own life.
Surprisingly, on the far side of our tragedy, refined versions of our prior selves remain, ones that have walked with God through the fire but have not been consumed. Yet scars remain also, and it’s been painful in ways I never thought possible. Having a small child makes it even more heartbreaking. Sometimes I feel so alone, even though I know that nothing is farther from the truth. I still can’t believe this happened to me, even though I’ve had years now to settle into my new reality.
Everyone asks if I’ve ever had a moment of total despair or hopelessness. The answer is yes and no. my feelings were hurt badly when this happened to me. At times I felt like God had made a mistake, and I struggled to make sense of all the pain. Several times I thought I should just end this. I’m caught between life and death, I reasoned. This could not be what God planned for my life. In those darkest moments, however, God spoke into that mess and revealed truth I already knew: He sees the entire picture, and HE DOES NOT MAKE MISTAKES. He knows this is part of the story he is writing for me, for my family, and for all of the creation He is making right. It is not a plan B, and I trust that.
Still, no amount of catharsis or perspective finding will change the fact that our situation is terribly sad and deeply broken. I can give God the glory, and it can still hurt. I used to cry myself to sleep every night. But I have learned, above all other lessons, that healing for each of us is spiritual. We will be fully restored in heaven, but we are actually healed on earth right now. My experience has caused me to redefine healing and to discover a hope that heals the most broken places: our souls.
What has happened to me is extreme; however, it is not that different from what everyone deals with. I am a sort of microcosm for what we all feel. I can barely walk, even with a cane, but who feels free even if they can? My face is paralyzed, but who feels beautiful even when they look normal? I have no coordination in my right hand, so I can’t hold things, even my child, but who feels like a competent parent even if all their faculties are intact? For months I could not eat, and even today I have difficulty swallowing, but who feels fully satisfied even if they can enjoy every delectable treat they desire? I am tired almost all the time now, but who always feels energized to engage fully in their life? My voice is messed up, but who feels understood even if they can speak plainly? I have double vision, but who sees everything clearly even if they can see normally? My future is uncertain, but whose isn’t?
So no matter the situation, universally people feel what I am living out. They don’t feel understood. They don’t feel satisfied.
I believe that pain is pain, no matter what the form, but perspective is also perspective. Ultimately, ours is a story of a life overcome by hope. We are discovering joy even in the sadness and choosing contentment when it is very, very hard. For that, and for countless other blessings, I am so grateful to God. In some ways, Jay and I have been blessed to suffer greatly at such a young age because it informs the way we live the rest of our lives. We have learned that when everything else is gone, hope remains.
Perhaps some detours aren’t detours at all. Perhaps they are actually the path. The picture. The plan. And, perhaps most unexpectedly, they can be perfect.