But I watched an Ann Voskamp video tonight and she said something I needed to hear. Picking up the pen is slowing down. Picking up the pen is, in a way, picking up our sword to fight our enemy. Because picking up our pen slows down and Satan doesn't want us to slow down.
I have always been a writer. As far back as I can remember, I've journaled. (Spell-check doesn't like that word, but really?) But in the last 10-12 years, I've journaled about my relationship with God, even writing TO Him in my journals. Oftentimes, I have had a hard time fully grasping a lesson God is giving me until I try to pen my questions, frustrations, and emotions. And, the pen, or the slowing down, brings clarity.
So, I'm motivated once again (thanks, Ann) to write in hopes that I receive some clarity.
Dean was diagnosed about three years ago with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. I'm not even really sure I understand the disease, but I'll explain it to the best of my ability. Basically there is a hardening (or sclerosis) of the tissue around the nerves, or of the nerves themselves, that send signals to the muscles. The sclerosis causes the nerves to degenerate or die; so signals from the brain cannot reach the muscles. The muscles, therefore, start to atrophy, or shrink and waste away. As the the sclerosis spreads to various nerves, more and more muscles are affected. Over time, the affected person can become paralyzed. And this is what happened to Dean.
By the time Dean went to the hospital for his last battle against this mighty foe, he had been in a wheelchair for about a year, he had had a feeding tube put in because he could no longer eat, he could not move any of his limbs except for very limited movement in his right hand, he could not hold his head up or turn it sideways, and he could barely speak or swallow his own saliva. Devastating disease.
He went into the hopsital on a Wednesday; the following Saturday he "coded." I have no idea where that term came from or how a doctor would technically describe it, but in short, he was gone. It was surreal to witness someone dying, but without a doubt, his body no longer housed a soul. Then, despite his DNR (a "do not resuscitate" order), the doctor strapped forced oxygen on him. His color returned and he came back. We were all in shock when he spoke, "What happened?"
"You were gone," we told him. And, with great effort, he replied, "Oh, I know. I left this place." We didn't know exactly what he meant by that until later when he told us that he had seen a "bright, white light." And another time he said he had been "walking down a busy street towards the light," excuse me, "towards the Light, and the Light was right beside him." I can not help but believe Jesus was beside Dean, leading him straight to the Father. But, you know what struck me first? He was walking! Of course he was walking! He wasn't in his limited earthly body anymore, but his glorified, perfect eternal one!
I should back up a little to describe something about that Saturday that still surprises me. I was not afraid or sad when he "coded." I watched him struggle for those last breaths and I had the strangest peace. If you know me, you know I have always been terrified of choking. I have been choked three times. I have also had a near-drowning experience. Anything that prevents me or someone else from breathing has been a major stronghold of fear in my life. But, I look back on those couple of chaotic moments of Dean struggling to breathe, doctors and nurses pouring in the room, family members crying, and me going out into the hall trying to call Dean's children and then back into the room to check on him multiple times, and there was a strange peace. I knew he was leaving us, but I knew where he was going. I knew he was struggling to breathe, but I knew the whole struggle would all soon be over for him. There was almost a disconnect from the chaos. I don't know how to describe it, but God truly gives indescribable peace when we need it.
What seems even more perplexing to me, and has even troubled me sometimes since, is the fact that after he "came back," I went out into the hallway and wept. I was so calm when I thought he was gone, and so very troubled, and even angry when he was back with us. I just kept thinking, "I thought it was over for him! We brought him back! Oh, why does he have to suffer anymore?!" It's hard to admit that I was so hurt, so mad, when everyone else seemed so grateful.
Since that time, I have seen so much good that God did in Dean's second stint on earth. God allowed us to bring Dean back and He even used that "robbed" time for so much good. We got to hear just a bit of what Dean saw in those few minutes he was gone, which I believe was such a faith builder for so many of us. We all had time to say "Goodbye" and "We love you." We even heard him crack jokes. And a few of us were able to eek out another lesson or two from our unwitting teacher.
Personally, I got a good lesson in thankfulness. After Dean coded, he was moved to the Hospice floor in the hospital, where he spent almost another week. I believe it was Sunday or maybe Monday that he had such a good day, relatively speaking. His mouth was always so dry; so, every hour or two, we would sit him up to give him a "drink" of water, which really meant Wendy, his wife, would pour some water in his mouth, and he would spit it right back out, because he couldn't swallow it. But that day, he slowly got out, "What I wouldn't give for a good, cold Coke." Wendy, ever the cheerful nurse, said, "You can have one!" The nurse brought one in and Wendy poured some in, and someone (I don't remember who now) held the kidney-shaped bowl/dish/pan under his chin so he could spit it out. Only...we heard him swallow. Wendy said, "Did you swallow that?" And one of my other brothers, Tod, who was sitting in the corner, popped out of his chair and half-laughed, half-scolded, "You swallowed that, boy?!" A slight smile touched Dean's face and he barely bobbed his head in a nod.
He drank quite a bit of Coke that day, and water, and we were all stupefied. He hadn't swallowed anything in days, if not weeks. He was enjoying what is such a normal activity that most of us take for granted: swallowing. And at one point he even said, "I am the luckiest man alive to get to drink cold coke and cold water."
It was an inspiring comment, coming from one who couldn't move, couldn't eat, could barely talk, and knew his earthly life was very near finished. And it was a very painful reminder of my ungratefulness.
Which brings me back to Ann Voskamp. She said in that video tonight that gratefulness brings us into the presence of God. Certainly, Dean entered His courts with thanksgiving in his heart. And, if there is one thing I think God wants me to take away from Dean's life and death (because I know Dean wouldn't want it wasted), it is to be grateful. Gratefulness ushers us into the presence of God, and where else do we really want to be?
Remember the song?
"I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise! I will say, 'This is the day that the Lord has made.' I will rejoice for He has made me glad!"
"Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name." Psalm 100:4, NIV
Let's do it now...
Attitude of Gratitude:
#267. my big 3-almost-4-year-old curling up in my lap and fitting just so right; she won't be able to do that forever.
268. being able to sing at the funeral. listen, i don't know how it sounded, other than shakey, but i made it through, and that was only Jesus.
269. text messages with my family. we might be crazy, but we love each other in all our craziness. that's enough.
270. running. or walk-running. today. for the first time in, what, years? it felt oh-so-good.
271. pandora and all the awesome praise music it provides for...running. =)
272. my big girl's awesome kindergarten teacher. we love ms. lisa.
273. my baby girl's preschool. so comfortable with them.
274. my man's work ethic. he inspires me.
275. some of the best mail in the world that came this past week: books!
276. a good friend who cared enough to share her good books
277. an opportunity to be involved in my big girl's school; so grateful for the invite to serve on the PBIS team
278. a video link sent from a friend which reminded me that writing is a good way to slow down
279. the reminder from God through andy stanley that actions trump good intentions; so, do the thing!
280. being alive another day so i had some opportunities to do the thing(s)!