Only recently did I realize what I had accidentally captured in the picture above. (The full picture is viewable mid-blog.)
This was taken on Christmas Day of this last year. I was on my way to walk through Wright Park in the heart of Tacoma. Our girls were two blocks away at Tacoma General Hospital, keeping a vigil over Mike’s bed as he rested from a big morning of being awake and communicating with us.
Four emergency room visits in two years, this one was the most terrifying of all. Although nothing can ever match the emotions of Mike’s sudden collapse in March of 2015, I felt completely undone over what had happened this Christmas week. There had been the scare from a seizure in October, but the new meds had us reassured, and he seemed perfectly well. There was nothing out of the normal as he sat in his chair and talked with me that night, when BOOM! He started to seizure … even that felt okay because after October’s scare, I knew what to do. I knew how to comfort him and wait for it to pass. Only it didn’t.
He stopped breathing, and we were back to paramedics, aid cars, the frantic flurry of trying to restart his heart. Then … two hours later, the routine was “normal” again. He was intubated, hooked up to monitors, and “cooled down” so his brain could rest and so could we. Only … he didn’t, and we didn’t. It was the first time I remember hearing “code blue” other than on TV and realized that it real … was about me … about my family … about our future.
Not once, but twice, Mike went code blue. It was awful standing in the door with my arm around one daughter and the other in the far reaches of the phone connection, all of us waiting anxiously for yet another … and then another miracle.
The medical team got him stabilized for the third time in six hours, but I grew more unsettled. How could Mike’s heart and brain take so much stress without permanent damage? I found myself in the hospital’s chapel that night and the next and the next, seeking Christ for strength to accept whatever our journey would be. The Lord hadn’t changed in all of this, but I would need to … and I couldn’t do it without Him.
Then came that Christmas morning. It was the first time that Mike fully opened his eyes and acknowledged us. He was loopy, but knew who he we were … well, except for Sallie. He had lost all track of time and didn’t think she would be home for Christmas yet. Suddenly, his face lit up and he mouthed some words to her. He thought she was a nurse and he wasn’t liking nurses so much because they kept poking him and wouldn’t let him eat. He smiled brightly when he realized she wasn’t a “mean” nurse, but his own daughter. It was an odd and wonderful Christmas morning.
On my walk, later that day, I trekked past a familiar church building and realized that a scripture was set into the wall that I had never paid attention to before.
“He sent forth His word and healed them.” Okay, so those words had been there for nearly a century, but that day, they were an audible from heaven. You can argue with me about it, but those words were there for me … confirmation of what the Lord seemed to be showing me back at the hospital chapel on the previous nights. I now knew for certain that Mike would be healed and go back to teaching kids.
And now, the real reason, I’m writing today (sorry it’s taken me so long to get to the part, but the background seems important). After that breakthrough moment, I took another picture of the building so I could remember which one it was. Maybe you’ve already noticed, but if you look to the bottom right, you’ll see a person sitting on a step.
Her name is “Elizabeth”. I didn’t even see her at that moment. (I shudder to think how much I’ve been meant to see, but often just plain miss.) It wasn’t until an hour later – on my return – that I noticed the woman bundled in a jacket and scarf, bare hands red and raw from the frigid temps. I started past, thinking I had been away from the hospital too long, but that ol’ familiar sense (which I too often ignore) told me to stop.
So I did … after all, it was Christmas. As a result I spent my Christmas afternoon with a drug addicted twenty-year-old who had made a decision to put her life back into God’s hands. She didn’t know exactly how to do it … and neither did I, truthfully … but we sat and talked … and prayed. She said she wanted to go back to Oregon and teach or cut hair. So, I shared the story of why I was out walking that day and not at home with my family in front of a Christmas tree and piles of presents. Then, I asked if she could do something for me, “Could you not give up? Could you believe that God has purposed for you to do this very thing, and just like my guy who is up in the hospital fighting for life so that he can go back to his classroom and to kids who need someone to believe in them, can you join us?”
There was more to my encounter with Elizabeth, but it doesn’t really belong in this blog. She found a place in my heart, and I think of her often, praying for her complete healing and freedom. Then, several weeks later, I found this photo on my phone and realized that Elizabeth was in it … sitting a few feet from the promise of healing, on the side of that wall. Once I found the verse in scripture (Psalm 107), I realized that the passage had a whole lot more to do with Elizabeth’s situation than really my own:
17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and He saved them from their distress.
20 He sent forth his word and healed them;
He rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds
Ironic really, that a verse put on the side of a building used to house a church with questionable doctrines, daily proclaims a truth into my city … a truth needed by me, by Elizabeth, and by a very troubled and growing population of lost, drug addicted people in my city. God heals those who are in distress … those who have wandered … those who are afraid … those who have no where else to go. He loves … and He heals. (It really is worth reading all of of Psalm 107 to fully capture what I am trying to say here.)
Personally, I have been distressed by the growing problem of drugs destroying our youth. It is very visible in West Coast cities, and I’ve personally noted the growing numbers in Portland, Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma of homeless, distraught, hopeless people … owned by drugs or alcohol, without hope for a future. Interestingly, I talked with a recent visitor to our area, and he commented on this very thing, noting how while in Seattle, he was stunned by how many people roamed the streets at night, screaming out … or staring blanking … obviously drug affected and tormented. This man was a self-proclaimed agnostic, so I thought his observations especially interesting.
The morning after I met Elizabeth, doctors told me they were going ahead with the operation to insert a defibrillator into Mike’s heart. They had feared he would be too weak and in too much pain, but the doctor who had been with us since Mike was admitted this time, would be going off duty for several days. Now would be the best time.
I walked down to the chapel to pray and on my way, deviated to one of my favorite spots in the hospital, an alcove on the 8th floor where the windows open to a view of the city. Below is the very view that greeted me that morning. (This unfiltered shot, was taken with my cell phone … another picture I forgot that I had.)
I look into this picture as I did on December 26th, and I think of the God of love who isn’t afraid to let us go through rocky times, who doesn’t shy away from letting us play out the consequences of our own choices. I think of Elizabeth and others whom I know in similar situations as hers or as ours … and I think, “God, You’ve got this … heal our land … heal our people. Teach me to intercede, Lord. Teach me to be less concerned about my own comfort in this life and fleeting pursuits … let me depend whole-heartedly on Your faithfulness … and may You set a generation free to do the same.”
Hope at the edge of darkness …
Psalm 107: 43 Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
and consider the great love of the LORD.