Five Years and Counting
May 23, 2022 made five years I was NOT supposed to see according to man and medical science. Yet here I am and there is only one explanation. God’s plan for my life was different than anyone including myself knew.
From 1977 until 2017 I lived but didn’t really LIVE. My way of managing pain, loss, grief and sadness was to suppress it with sex, drugs and alcohol and struggle past it as fast as possible with no healing. As a result of a lot of things self condemnation crept in and made itself at home. I allowed myself to lose all joy simply because I didn’t deal with loss and sadness and hid it away instead, burying it deep in my subconscious where in hindsight it did much, much more harm. I’ve often joked that there are two types of examples in the world, the first is how to live well and the other is what not to do. I’ve always said I was the latter. Some jokes hold a lot of truth in them.
As a result of a lot of things that happened on the 23rd of May 2017 my life, my existence was stripped away and my priorities and all I thought important meant nothing. All that was left was a confidence in and a dependence on God that has changed everything. As my beloved Catherine said ” God WILL beat you half to death to get your attention ” and in my case that is true. I would not recommend anyone waiting for that but in my case that is what happened.
Living in The Light of Eternity
Think about how it feels, early in the morning, cool, clear and fresh from a night’s sleep. Now think about how beautiful the eastern sky looks just before day. It isn’t there but you know it is coming, nothing could stop it and the growing light gives you hope of a clear cool beautiful day about to happen.
Now multiply that joyful anticipation a thousand maybe a million times. THAT is the glorious never ending future we as God’s children have to look forward to every day that we get to experience in this flawed world. Think about it, you are one day closer to the most glorious eternity you could ever imagine.
Your life, my life should and can be an example of the confidence, courage and strength that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit brings us. The difference is real and gives a peace and fearlessness like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
This life at best is short and passes fast. It is easy to be startled at times at just how fast it passes but when you have your heart and eyes set on eternity it changes your perspective entirely. Remember the next time you see the horizon at dawn and know there is something over there that is coming fast….so is Jesus
On April 3,2017 God started to move in my life but at the time it was just a regular day. We went over to the barn to feed cows ahead of a brewing storm. About the time we loaded feed onto the truck the storm started. We rushed to get into the truck and move away from everything to avoid debris. About the time we rounded the barn and faced west we watched a tornado destroy the property line between us and John and Jean Sport about 100 yards away, an amazing sight in and of itself. This storm did a lot of destruction here and later in Luverne, Al. but as miracles usually are NO injuries ! But here it created a lot of new work, clearing the fence, resetting posts and re-stretching barbwire to keep the cows in. As I was working and as I got exerted I felt something I’d never felt before. Not pain, but a weird discomfort in my neck…..if I sat and rested a few minutes it would subside, so I worked that way for days. In conversation with Catherine my wife we decided that it might be something to check into. After I completed my work and got the cows settled back in I made an appointment with a Cardiologist for a few weeks later. Nothing much changed and I didn’t think much was wrong, so I didn’t worry a lot about upcoming events. Never had any chest pain or anything to believe my heart was bad or had been damaged from the Rhabdomyolysis Id had in the 90s, nothing like that. Little did I know anything about how the next few months would play out for us all but God did.
My Heart Needed Fixing
A few weeks after the storm event at the farm I kept my appointment at the Cardiologist. I was examined, tested, hooked up to equipment etc…and they came away from it all that I probably needed a catheterization to look at my heart. They said possibly I might need a stint which is a sort of wire reverse Chinese puzzle to keep arteries open. That was scheduled for the next week, and we went home not really worried about it. I had seen it help a lot of people including my dad and felt like it would all be fine. On the day of the procedure we went in and did all that it takes to do that sort of stuff. I was still not worried until during the cath the cardiologist said….” Oh jeez, I cannot do a stint, it is much worse than I even thought…you need open-heart surgery” and then he showed me what he was looking at on the screen. It didn’t look good but I thought I would back away, regroup and get it done later but NOOO…he told me I might not make it back if I left, I needed it done now, it was that critical. So we talked and I finally agreed after much resistance, some food and some prayer. They scheduled my open-heart surgery for the next day and after a blurry night the day was upon us. We were far from ready for the events of that day but it came fast and what a day it was.
What Could Go Wrong Did Go Wrong
Now I don’t really remember the night before open-heart surgery, something Catherine says is not abnormal given the events that followed. I went through surgery successfully getting 5 bypasses. Everything went ok but after I was closed up, and they started to move me off the operating table I had a massive heart attack. The surgery crew immediately broke my chest back open with the surgeon pumping my heart with his hand for 11 minutes. I had so-called beating heart surgery and was therefore not on a heart machine nor had I been, so he had to do something fast. They finally got me hooked up to a bypass machine but by that time my heart was enlarged from all that was done, and I was comatose from the medications used to keep me living. They couldn’t close my chest due to that swelling then, so I went to the SAMC CCU. I went back to surgery three days later to close my chest up which was uneventful by comparison. By that time it was discovered I had had what was characterized as many strokes, not mini but many like they didn’t know how many. Catherine said my brain scan looked like a night sky all lit up. My brain had been showered with stuff from the heart attack and that causes real problems. It was becoming apparent that I might not survive at all and if I did would most likely be in a vegetative state at best. From May 23 till about June 26-27 time stood still for me, not for everyone else but to me it was like a second in time. Prayer warriors and friends covered us with hope and prayers and supported Catherine with help and kindness nonstop. Our farm was run by neighbors without even being asked out of sheer love and kindness. Our livestock looked after all that time by kind loving neighbors who were never asked to help. Doctors were preparing for the worst, talking to Catherine about ” terminal weans” and death related stuff, but she never quit praying, never gave up on me and believing God was in control no matter what ultimately happened good or bad. She stayed with me days on end holding my hand and praying for a miracle but never seeing any change.
A Million Little Things
Totally unexpectedly by anyone one day in mid June I started to move and wake slowly, at first moving a leg and a foot which scared the life out of Catherine when I did. She went screaming into the hall for the nurses that day. I did not move much but eventually I opened my eyes following movement but never speaking, not moving my head at all just my eyes. I remember very little of this time and most of it has been told to me. I was on a vent and had been long enough to have been shifted to a tracheotomy. The earliest thing I remember when I was able to think is a feeling of fearlessness and joy and not the least bit worried. I think from that time on I KNEW I had forgiven myself, something God had already done long ago. During all the time I was comatose there was no magical revelations, no meeting with angels, no talking with God…. nothing, just darkness. Time stood still…to me those days were a moment in time from May 23 till late June and were like a second in time to me…..BUT as I awoke I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. Catherine tells me a story about the song Hallelujah that a hospital ministry kid sang one day. I was awake sort of, eyes open following movement but not moving anything else. One day a volunteer came in and asked if he could sing and play for us. Catherine agreed and he sang Hallelujah a song about King David’s failings and recovery. She said my eyes never left him the whole time he sang. I don’t remember any of those days but somehow the 30 year self inflicted darkness in my life was gone forever and I knew God loved me and had forgiven me years before. And more surprising finally I knew I had finally forgiven myself. As I improved I searched my mind for an understanding of the events and their meaning. I talked with everyone who came in my room trying to understand. One lady I saw every day was a housekeeper and clearly a child of God named Teresa. I asked her, why me, what is my purpose here, why did God spare me? I’m nobody. She said words I’ll never forget. ” Maybe he did it so you could tell others about what he did here, and to share the joy”..That’s it…no huge thing, no African mission trip, no speaking engagements, no preaching…just talk about it. I came home in early July to begin what we hoped was an uneventful recuperation but NOOO…8 weeks in I had a lung collapse from a lung disease discovered thru this event and I was facing another surgery…after two weeks more in the hospital I finally came home for good on September 1 2017 we hoped.
From that time till now has been one day filled with joy followed by another. The knowledge that God loves me and never leaves me to fight alone overcomes everything I have to deal with. It has taken physical therapy to learn to walk again, memory and speaking came slow but rest and hard work has paid off. I still struggle physically with things I don’t talk about but I feel blessed to even be writing this. Recently I asked God why he let me stay, he told me this one thing… ” you will do a million little things “.
You know the events of 2017 created a LOT of physical and emotional change and some of it was NOT easy to accept. I spent my life, 42 years of it hiding in my work. It was the only place I could go where the self condemnation and the voices got quieter. The only place where I felt I had value in this life, or so I thought. Self condemnation is a powerful thing, it makes you think you have no value, you cannot come back from your failures. It destroys a Christian’s testimony and make you what I’ve called ‘a useless Christian’, that is what I was. My behavior, my poor choices destroyed a life, destroyed my family and left me alone, starting over in my 40s, all I knew to do was work. Then 2017 happened and what a wonderful blessing it was but along with the good there were and are physical changes which were part of it that will never change.
All of this came to a head recently, I suppose I was avoiding accepting these changes totally but I had to. I have always been in demand in my work. I get on average an offer a week from all over the world. Want to work in Thailand? want to work in Africa? Want to work in China? Want to work in Panama? etc….etc…etc..and I had been saying and responding all along, not yet maybe later. Recently I got an offer to return to Alaska, a place I loved to work and an offer almost too hard to believe, and my first impulse was to take it. But then reality kicked in. The conclusion was I am not able to stand the brutal travel and huge distances, the severe weather not to mention the 18hr work days anymore.
What brought it all to a head was a book, one of many left behind by my mother called We Would See Jesus, a book about having a deeper relationship with God. One paragraph burned into my heart. It says, ” we must be able to be honest about ourselves with ourselves to move into a deeper understanding of Jesus ” Somehow I needed that and for the first time I spoke words I never thought I would to others but much more importantly to myself. ” I cannot do this anymore, I am not physically able to do it, I am done with that part of my life ” It sounds sad or something but it was really like removing a weight id carried for over three years. Damn I’m stupid sometimes. God will always make a way, he already has, we have our farm, we have cattle and food to eat every day, all we need happens and always will.
I too have had come to terms like this. This is a thought provoking read. Thank you for sharing your…
Nice work, Neil! Well said.
That was quite the day. Glad you are here to tell the tale. Nice post! email came through and comment…