Friday, December 28, 2012

Testimony of Faith and Hope

    Christmas Eve day 2009, I sat alone in our house watching television, because it was the only thing I had the energy to do. After seventeen years of marriage, Aaron and I were divorcing and spending Christmas and New Years apart. Our marriage had spiraled so far downward, after his paralysis in 2007, that grief, hurt, anger and resentment had taken over. Those emotions overrode every waking moment and neither of us knew how to heal what remained. He told me that I grieved for the man he was before his paralysis and I admit there was truth in that. I did miss the physical things we did together: working out, working in the yard together, intimacy, socializing, holding hands while going for a walk or simply hugging him from a standing position. These were things that kept us emotionally connected.
      His leg's muscle spasms were so intense that we hadn't slept in the same bed for close to two years. I'll never forget the day I was getting ready for work and he came into the bathroom. He used the counter to pull himself upright, put his arms around me and hugged me. I saw our reflection in the mirror and started to cry. I cried, because it felt good to be hugged like that again, but he perceived it as him not being man enough anymore.
     On this same Christmas Eve day, I received a phone call from my doctor with test results from a chest x-ray. For the past week, I had been running a high fever,was short of breath and coughing up small amounts of blood. After a visit to my Dr. and a chest x-ray it was determined that I had a mass in my right bronchial tube. My right-lower lung had collapsed, which explained the shortness of breath and fever due to infection. Although the mass was an unknown, it had to be biopsied and removed. I remember trying to call Aaron, because although we were divorcing, we still cared about one another. He was always the first person I wanted to tell about anything important and as I sat there getting ready to call, I knew in the future that he wasn't going to be my "go to" person.
     When I finally got in touch with him and told him the results, he was quiet. I told him I would have a Bronchoscopy done within the week to find out if the mass was cancerous. I asked him to pray and he responded, "I'm so angry I can't even pray right now." Aaron was raised a Christian and always had a strong faith, whereas I had not asked God into my life until March 2008. My spiritual walk was at the infant stage, but it was the only thing holding me together at this point. I needed it to keep me focused and positive.
     I endured a bronchoscopy and CT scan without Aaron by my side. For the first time since his injury, I realized how vulnerable you are when you're sick and your body is not under your control anymore. I regretted that I hadn't gone to more of his medical appointments, because I didn't think he needed me. He felt that he shouldn't have had to ask and I realized now how much he needed me at those appointments. Instead, I had been focused on my management career, because it was my social outlet and escape from the reality I didn't believe I had the strength to endure. God was teaching me a lesson about empathy and compassion. I knew I needed my best friend by my side and I didn't have him.
     When Aaron returned home in January, he told me we were going to get through this together. He wanted us to focus on my health, postpone the divorce and for me to recuperate at home after the surgery. My mom had planned to come out and help since we didn't know what condition I'd be in post surgery. Aaron kept his word and was by my side going forward.
     After having a second bronchoscopy, it was concluded that the mass was cancer. The dreaded "C" word had entered my already unraveling world. Although this wasn't the outcome I wanted, I had prepared myself for it. I was afraid, but there was also an underlying calm within me. For the first time in my life, I had let go of control and turned it over to a presence bigger than me. Next was a PET scan to determine if the cancer had metastisized. During the forty-five minute procedure, I lay in the tube listening to the continual hum of the machine and recited Psalm 143. "Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy, in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief...Let the morning bring me the word of your of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you." I had a sense of peace within me. Afterward we waited three hours for the PET scan results, and God answered my prayers, because the results came back that the cancer was not mestasticized.
     On February 15, 2010 I had a bi-lobectomy, which means the lower two lobes of my right lung had been removed and the top lobe was spared. That was a huge blessing as we were expecting the entire right side to be removed. Over the next four days in the ICU, I did everything the physical therapist and doctor told me to even though I was in the worst pain I had ever felt. I was getting a glimpse of the type of physical pain that Aaron feels everyday due to neuro-pathic pain. I won't go into the boring details of my recovery, but I do have an eight inch scar as proof and I was out of commission for the next three months. I couldn't even lift a milk jug out of the fridge or put my own seat belt on when we went to follow-up appointments. God was teaching me humility.
     During those three months of being housebound, God was not only healing my body, but he was healing our marriage. At that point, Aaron and I both felt we had nothing left to lose, so every suppressed emotion from the past three years: fear, anger, hurt and sadness were now out in the open for discussion. I remember analyzing every conversation we had looking for a glimmer of hope that we were meant to stay together. I had nothing else to do but rest, so analyzing came easily and having cancer made me realize how fleeting life is and that I didn't want to spend another minute in my pity party. Then it happened. The words I had been waiting to hear were spoken by Aaron when he said," I'm yours. You're mine. That's all we need. I don't want to take that for granted again." God had taught me patience. We reconciled and renewed our vows shortly after.
     I wish I could say the rest is history, but God was still working on Aaron's heart. He'd been struggling with anger towards the surgeon that paralyzed him, resentment towards the Army for disrespecting him, frustration towards a VA system that has been less than compassionate, and anger for the loss of his physical body and military career. When everything you worked hard for is pulled out from under you then you're typically going to feel cheated. Processing grief is a unique timeline for each individual and it's not a process that can be rushed. Everyday that he wakes up and gets into his wheelchair is a reminder of what he has lost.
     Unfortunately over the past six months, I attended church alone on all but maybe three occasions. Aaron doesn't sleep at night and it's nearly impossible for him to go to a morning service and stay awake. I would love for him to participate, but for the past six years it seemed his heart wasn't ready. So you can imagine my excitement when he asked if I would like some company during a Wednesday evening service. I'd been praying that God would open his heart to let the sadness pour out and let forgiveness flood in. The sermon that night was explaining that when you go to the altar and tell God your worries that you're receiving a gift from God and it's a blessing to be able to give Him those worries. However, in order to give a gift to God you need to use the attributes He gave you to glorify Him. I interpret that to mean it's okay to lay your worries at the altar, but don't use those worries as an excuse to stop worshiping Him and moving forward with what He has planned for you.
      The sermon definitely resonated with Aaron, because the next morning he stated that he wanted to start moving forward with our dream again. This was the first time I had heard him talk about the future rather than the past. Our dream is to improve the acreage that we bought and turn it into a retreat location for wounded warriors and their families. Aaron is looking forward, letting go of the past and dreaming again. Aaron wants to use his gifts to advocate for others. He's seeing what God has called us to do. Everything we go through in life is a test of strength and responsibility. God uses even our failures to teach us his blessings. God gives us a struggle and once we overcome it and build a strong foundation then he moves us up to our next challenge.
     Now we begin the challenge of turning our overgrown property into a place of respite, connection and healing for wounded warriors and their families. It's going to be a long process involving a lot of manual labor, but in the end it will be worth it. Aaron is back on the team and prayers are being answered. Our marriage, cancer and two hearts filled with grief are healing. For so many years I couldn't understand why God wasn't answering my prayers fast enough, but now I know that He answers them on His time, not ours.