A few nights ago, Ivan and I spent some time pondering a puzzle: If we had to streamline all of our experiences and struggles over the past year into one 5-minute conversation with a stranger, what would we share as the most important lesson God taught us? We both came up with separate answers, but I wanted to share mine with you here, especially in light of the stream of tragedies that have been in the news recently.
Most of our “accident” conversations (online, in person, with friends, family, strangers, and even each other) tend to circle around a recurring theme: before vs after…gains vs losses. I learned to walk, but I lost sensation in my left hand and other areas. I’ve relearned a lot of household tasks and personal care, but I can’t drive or go to the store. Those are two examples, but you can imagine how the comparisons could multiply endlessly! And not just for us…anyone who has lost anything could theoretically spend their post-trauma life in the same analytical cycle.
However, I realize that I’ve focused only on what I was good at before, not what I needed to improve on. I had musical talent and training, a strong work ethic, academic prowess, and a competitive edge. Those all sound like really good things, right? Except that they sometimes tempted me to be mediocre at people, at enjoying God’s biggest priority – community – unreservedly. True, I did squeeze in friends and social time and serve musically at our church. But I was quick to shy away from the inconvenient, the labor-intensive, the messy side of relationships…basically anything that posed a serious threat to my goals or my expertly time-managed week.
Ironically, community is the one thing we could not have survived this experience without. Do people spend entire lifetimes in wheelchairs? Absolutely. As much as it would have been tragic, we could have “made it” without my walking again. Do people lead successful lives without a limb? Sure. So even if I never feel my hand again, at least I have two hands. Do families cope with caring for a loved one who survives brain trauma but is left with permanent and severe cognitive deficits? Unfortunately, yes. My point in this list is, that even if we were never granted any of the answered prayers we have received, technically we could have “made it” in some fashion.
BUT, how could my family have stayed with me at the hospital 24/7 without the sacrifice and love of friends that brought food, blankets, and sometimes even clothes to help out? What about the sacrifice of my Dad’s church (Hillside) to let him spend much of the peak Christmas season hundreds of miles away from them? Or the church that Ivan worked at, for that matter? I couldn’t have gotten into the acute rehab hospital without the kind intercession of another friend, since technically I wasn’t strong enough to meet their physical qualifications. And when I went home, what about the messages, cards, phone calls, and visits from friends that sped the months along although I couldn’t really leave the house? Or the prayers, messages, and gifts from people I’d never even met. My mom lived apart from my dad for 5 months just to take care of me. Ivan would not have even known that Valley Christian Schools existed, apart from the Hillside community…which, by the way, we still hadn’t met in person. And once we did move up north, I would still have been relatively isolated except for kind church members who took the initiative to reach out and visit someone they had never even met in person.
If I wanted to be exhaustive, I could probably write a book just about all the details of the relational sacrifices that helped us make it this far, but my abridged point is this: we couldn’t have survived without being flooded with the very thing I was not great at before the accident. People were making inconvenient, painful, time-consuming, uncomfortable, costly decisions to benefit us every single day…. and that, even more than healing, is what propelled us to where we are now. We would not be enjoying a beautiful new life if we weren’t surrounded and supported by a community of Christ followers.
People, community. That was what I was not gifted at before the accident, but it has turned into the “elephant in the room” of my recovery. An elephant that I really needed to discover and name for myself. An elephant that God didn’t make just for me, but for everyone who has been thrown into a period of devastation. And an elephant that I pray I can spend the rest of my life growing more skillfully invested in.