My journey of faith began 30-ish years ago when I dropped myself on my head in a quiet Manassas, VA, neighborhood.
While it would be convenient to blame the accident on my bicycle, it’s much more accurate to express that my coordination skills (or lack thereof) were likely involved. Those same “coordination skills” have haunted my existence, managing to keep my humility levels relatively in check to date.
But what initially appeared to be a seven-year-old’s simple fall from a moving object turned much more serious in the moments following my accident. While I can’t remember the accident or the subsequent events in the several hours that followed, it’s a day my mom and dad will never forget.
It’s the day they almost lost their daughter.
After my dad loaded my limp body into our gray 1983 Ford Econoline van, we raced to the local hospital. He fought to keep me from losing consciousness, knowing intuitively that I’d suffered a serious concussion but unsure of what else may be afoot. As we descended upon the emergency room, the hospital staff quickly determined my case would be referred to Children’s Hospital in neighboring Washington, D.C. Minutes mattered, and I’d be flown via CareFlight. The trauma I’d suffered was causing intracerebal bleeding, or bleeding in the spaces surrounding the brain, and every moment became a precious commodity to my survival.
Honestly, I’m still bummed that I don’t remember my first (and only) helicopter ride.
As we fast-tracked to Children’s Hospital, the in-flight staff noted my brain swelling was continuing, and it was relayed to my parents that I’d likely need a procedure called a craniotomy. Essentially, the attending surgeon would drill holes in my skull to drain the blood clot, thereby relieving pressure within my skull.
And they wonder why I don’t like needles…
But something else happened on June 2,1984. As I was whisked into the prepared operating room, the doctors readied for surgery. Suddenly, mouths dropped. Hospital staff gaped in shock after discovering the bleeding in my brain had ceased, quite astonishingly, on its own. The pressure within my skull had dissipated. Poof. Gone. There was no need for a craniotomy. “Miracle” was used by the doctor when he broke the news to my parents.
It’s interesting, though; I actually remember one of the moments in the OR – I believe it was actually that gaping moment when the doctors discovered the miracle. I felt God quietly nudge me for the first time. Flashes of white rushed all around me as I laid on the gurney. Peach-colored spheres popped into my view occasionally, mouths moving. I didn’t feel pain in those moments. The stark white lights were bright. Flurries of activity carried on around me, but I don’t recall any sounds. It was quiet in my world, but there was movement in my heart, somewhere deep within. And as quickly as my eyes had opened, I retreated back into the shelter of unconsciousness.
The next time I awoke, I was tucked into a small bed in a plain hospital room, surrounded by my parents. I didn’t understand their emotions at the time, but I realize now how relieved, and perhaps still a little scared, they must have been. Their fervent prayers had been answered how they’d hoped.
A severe concussion, a black eye, a contusion on the top of my right hand and another on my shoulder served as war wounds from the accident. They were also the first visible evidence God has used to try to keep me off two wheels.
Many commented on how “lucky” I was, and perhaps that was true, but I felt something much more powerful that day. There was a current, a palpable connectivity in those fleeting seconds I was awake in the operating room. Something far greater seemed to say, “this is not the end of your story.”
Despite the heartbreak of missing my second grade year-end swim party, I remained in good spirits and healed. As our small family spoke more about the details of the accident, it was evident that we all felt God’s movements that day. Leading up to (and following) the miracle, prayers rolled in from our pastor, church congregation and a family friend diagnosed with multiple sclerosis whose daughter was with me on the bike ride. I wouldn’t necessarily call it spooky, but I daresay God ensured we’d take note of that day. It was the day He entered my life and my walk with faith began.
Exactly one year later, I was baptized.
Perhaps you’ve noticed… Up to this point in my writing to help others with chronic illness, I’ve deliberately removed the majority of a faith component, premising that I’d be able to “touch” more people, believers or not. Others would often ask questions like, “how do you remain so positive?” Or, “how are you able to cope so well with rheumatoid arthritis?” I’d smile and say, “it simply takes focus. A little extra effort. I eat right most of the time, work out every day and write in my gratitude journal. I read inspirational messages and pay it forward as much as I can. I meditate and I find things to be thankful for. I have an amazing support network.”
All of those things are true. But I intentionally omitted the most significant compass, for fear I’d offend.
For so much of my adult life, and much to my parent’s dismay, admitting and following my faith wasn’t sexy or easy. My philosophy was to only reveal on a “need to know basis,” which was never. It simply wasn’t what the “cool kids” were doing. And for a young woman who so craved the approval of others, I simply didn’t have the strength to proclaim what I knew to be true in my heart. So I walked a tight-rope, balancing between my underlying faith and Lora’s special brew of live-your-life-on-your-own-terms serum.
You can imagine how that turned out.
I lived life scared and somewhat obsessive-compulsive. Afraid of what may happen if I did this or didn’t do that, but never allowing Him to guide my plans. Letting Him in, but never letting Him walk alongside me. Ever negotiating that I’d proclaim my belief in Him IF this or IF that, and hoping He’d find favor with me because my heart was in the right place. In all actuality, His power and mercy were too big and too great for me to comprehend. He’d reached in and saved my life once, inexplicably, and that scared the you-know-what out of me. I just wanted to stay on His good side. I didn’t want to rock the boat; I just wanted a comfortable life. No surprises. C’mon, God… Just this one, teensy-tiny time? Help a girl out.
And that’s how I know He has a sense of humor.
In all seriousness though, it was in the darkest days of my life that I felt God next to me. I’ve seen His footprints in my sand. He’s carried me often and I’ve never given Him credit.
From the months in an empty apartment after the collapse of my first marriage to my battle with chronic illness and every trial or hiccup in between, I’ve felt Him with me. And despite that, I’ve insisted on searching for answers, direction and confirmation that validated “my way” of doing things, only to have the best-laid plans blow up in my face. There are some things in life so incomprehensibly painful, seemingly without any purpose, but to maim our hearts. But, I assure you, everything points your journey toward something.
For me, my life has been about learning to listen to God’s voice. Only when I relinquish control and make the pivotal decision to listen to Him and His plan for my life (which is a decision I must renew every moment of every day), do I fully and completely understand that He so desperately wants to teach me everything I need to know. He wants me to feel His love. He wants to be more present in my life. But that means I must first let Him in.
I don’t have this chronic illness life figured out; far from it, in fact. I’m just like you, taking it day-by-day. But it’s time for me to share a bit more about my journey with faith: the encouragement I share comes from a time when God and a little girl touched hands in an operating room many years ago.