Fragility and Resilience

There are just some people in life that ‘stick’ in memories.  Even after decades of no contact, and then with a reconnection on FaceBook, they bring back all of the good stuff that they’re associated with. Not just a fun afternoon, but the totality of the experience they were a part of years ago.  For me, that was an incredible experience as a camper and then a summer staff member for a total of 10 years at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, Wisconsin (USA). Even though I went to a ‘solid’ church as a kid, Timber-lee has always been my spiritual foundation. People there live what they believe. It’s not lip service, and it’s not ‘on’ when people are watching only to be turned off when the kids leave. It’s legit.  It was 24/7 immersion in Christianity that was good.  Not the negative stuff that can be associated with Christians, but an authenticity that is hard to find. I couldn’t get enough of the place, and wanted to live there permanently (they didn’t have any openings for full-time campers…).

One of the people I first met when I was 8 years old became very ill this week, and her heart stopped. She was somewhere that provided her with near immediate CPR, and EMS was called. They got her heart restarted, and the ER she was taken to figured out the problem and opted for induced hypothermia (dropping her body temperature) and a coma to minimize any neurological complications (that nobody hears about with CPR). It’s assumed by most non-medical people that when the heart is restarted, all is well. That is the outcome in a very few cases.  Recovery is a process- not an event.

A couple of things have stood out in the four days since this happened.  First, I have learned an entirely different level of prayer.  I’ve prayed as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had someone come to mind as often as this incredible woman has, or that I’ve actually pleaded to God on behalf of someone else. I’ve prayed for healing for other people, but this has been different.   My sincerity in the past has been just as strong, and I’m not sure that I can really describe how this is different. It just is.

Second, I’m realizing how important those years at Timber-lee have been.  I’ve always been so thankful for the experiences I had there- whether the week long  sessions as a camper, or the 3 month sessions on the summer staff for 2 1/2 summers.  The people I met there are entwined with the experience.  They can’t be separated, and that’s  wonderful.  When I think of one, I’m flooded with the memories of the other.  It’s a package deal.  The feelings of safety, love, fellowship, and acceptance have never been replicated. Ever.

The fragility of life smacked me in the face four days ago (as it did much more so for those who are closer- her husband, and friends and family).  The experiences at camp have been my ‘go to’ memories to ferret out good days when I was going through rough times.  This week, there is part of that whole picture that is in trouble.  The reports come in daily, and I can’t get to them fast enough. I spread them to other pages where people are waiting for news. And we’re all praying.  There is hope.

I’m not sure I’m explaining myself all that well.  I’m  a bit overwhelmed, and in some ways I don’t feel entitled to that level of emotion, as we didn’t have contact for so long.  But it’s Timber-lee and one of the handful of people that has had an impact on me since 1972.  I even wrote a ‘report’ about my first week at camp when I was 8 years old, and she is in that ‘report’.  I got to see her in July, and it was so great to be back at the camp and see people who made it what it has been in my life.  And now she’s in a coma.

As a nurse, I know the possible outcomes. I worked in a coma stimulation unit at a brain injury rehab center many years ago. I saw some horribly sad situations. But I also saw some amazing stories and recoveries.  The people I took care of had been in comas for many weeks to months before they started showing signs of improvement, and the injuries were often because of external trauma (accidents). The damage had been more extensive, and intense. They started out in much worse shape, at least structurally; many had parts of their brains or skulls removed because of the damage.   My friend has already been reacting well to commands, and her reflexes are good. That gives me much hope for her outcome. Yet, I also know that there are no guarantees.  SO, while I’m thrilled every day with the updates, I hold back because of what I know and have seen. And yet, to the part of me that is still seeing Timber-lee as only existing with the people I knew there still like they were, I can’t allow myself to accept anything less than a full  recovery.  And that’s what I pray for, as do many, many others.  This woman is cherished.

I guess when I remember Timber-lee, I’m transported in time to the age I was then, and the feelings I remember when I was there.  It’s technically just a ‘place’…but it was much more than that to me.  I saw how Christians live in a way that I wanted to emulate.  When I’ve been in situations that were literally life-threatening, my first thoughts  often go back to something from camp.  That’s my feel-good place. It’s where I felt the most freedom to be who I really was during that time in my life.  And, I learned so much from the people I met there- either as a camper or on staff.  It also played a role in why I became an RN.

My friend who is sick is one of those examples of being a Christian that has been a role model, even in the 30 years we had no contact.  Her life has had an impact on tens of thousands of lives as she’s worked at the camp for decades. When I’ve thought of her over the years, I smiled.  When I hear music that she taught the music groups, or camp songs we sang, I smile.  When we’ve had FaceBook contact, I smile.  She’s a ‘feel good’ person.  That’s a quality I respect and admire so much. And she’s a very solid Christian, in ways that encourage and inspire- not judge or demean.

So, this is a hodgepodge of words that may not make sense.  That’s OK.  I just needed to write this.  I’m praying that her recovery exceeds expectations, and she can resume her life with this being just a blip in the totality of her life.  I can’t express what Timber-lee and the people I associate with it really mean to me. It goes beyond just a ‘place’.  The experiences were  heaven-blessed.  So many times the good I got from there helped  get me through some really lousy stuff. I can’t really explain that either, except to say that I felt that the God I saw in the people I met there was more real to me because of having been there.  Maybe that’s it- they showed me God.  They made Him more real.  I knew about God from the time I was very young, and believed in Jesus as a young elementary school kid…but I met Him at Timber-lee, through people like this friend who now needs Him to surround her with healing and restoration.

This one’s for you, MK.

Where Was God During My Cancer?

Right next to me.  That is a huge reason why I got through it without too many emotional scars.  Yes, it was a scary thing to hear I had acute myelocytic leukemia. Yes, I was nervous about chemotherapy. I thought about dying.  But it was what it was.  Without my belief in God having everything under control, I would have been a mess.  I didn’t have to understand what He was doing, or why He was allowing it.  I just had to believe it was all happening for a reason.  I’m still not entirely sure what the reason was/is- but that’s OK.  It’s out of my hands.  I’m generally happier when humans aren’t managing things.

I’d ended up in the emergency room  before being diagnosed . I’ve got an extensive medical history, and because of having had many, many blood clots in my lungs at one time, I’d been told that I should always get any sort of funky feelings in my chest or breathing issues checked out at the ER.  I’d seen my lab work and a hematologist/oncologist, who was planning to do a bone marrow biopsy the following week.  The Friday night  before the scheduled bone marrow biopsy (of course it was a Friday night after office hours) I started having some odd pressure and mild shortness of breath. I knew it could be because of the low hemoglobin, but figured I’d better get it checked out.  That may have been the difference in surviving or not.  My lab work values had fallen even more.  I later found out I may have had a week or two to live had I not gotten started on chemo and transfusions of platelets and red blood cells when I did.  That ‘gut’ feeling was something I’ve learned to listen to, and believe it can be a nudge from God to perk up and pay attention to something.

When I first got the diagnosis, I wasn’t that surprised.  I’d seen my lab work that got me referred to the hem/onc, and knew whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.  I’d at least had that much warning.  It is different to actually hear the words confirming what sort of diagnosis I had, but at least I knew enough as an RN to know that I was in trouble.  I had time to have some sort of ‘back of my mind’ reaction.  So, the praying started in earnest before I was actually diagnosed.  My main prayers- please, God, either get me through it, or minimize the pain.

I knew where I’d end up if I died.  I’ve had very strong beliefs in Heaven since I was a kid. Some say that’s illogical, blind faith.  I believe that faith is sort of blind by definition- LOL.  If I needed proof, it wouldn’t be faith !  I did pray often, and know others were praying for me.  Several of my dad’s friends from his church came to visit me, as did a couple of the visiting clergy folks.  (I’d grown up in that church, so knew the people he knew for the most part).  A big blessing was the social work Master’s intern that was assigned to me was actually a  friend,  former neighbor, and church friend (her whole family).  I was so glad to see her, and told her that it was OK to tell her family, who also visited.  It was nice to see familiar people.

I believe that getting to Heaven is a choice.  It’s not about being ‘good’ or living a decent life. It’s about belief. In particular, it’s about believing that Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth as a man in order to die as a sacrifice for all of our sins.  Nobody who is of an age of accountability  can ‘work’ their way into Heaven.  It’s about believing in Jesus, His death and resurrection, and that He’s going to come back one day.  So Heaven is a choice. Not believing is also a choice. And, it’s all free will.  God gave us free will to decide if we believe or not. He could have designed us all to follow Him without making that decision, but what good is a relationship that is ‘programmed’?  What good is the ‘love’ of a child that is pre-programmed?  It’s not ‘real’.  God didn’t create puppets. He created us with free will.  It’s up to us to make that decision.

I’ve been told that my ‘illogical’ faith is a form of being brainwashed, or following as a puppet, but it’s actually my responsibility to continue believing what I do.  I don’t believe salvation is ever lost once it’s accepted.  However, to maintain an active  relationship with the Lord, I have to put some effort into it.  A feeble analogy is this:  a plant will still grow once it has roots- but weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning, and protecting it make for a much fuller plant with deeper roots, fuller blossoms, and  a longer life.  Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not !  I ask God to forgive me for various things all the time !  But He’s working in me, using what strengths I have.  He can use all of us. Many of the people in the Bible who had the greatest impact were train wrecks before they let God work through them !

Christianity has been described as ‘exclusive’.  Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no requirements other than belief and acceptance of what Christ did. That’s it.  There are no ‘steps’ in order to be good enough.  No amount of following ‘rules’ will get someone into Heaven.  No trips to places around the world are required.  There are no limits on the number of people who can get in.  It’s just belief and faith.  God loves all of us.  But He can’t permit sin in Heaven.   Jesus took away our sins when He died on the cross- that is the payment, and WE didn’t even have to pay it !  It was paid for us 🙂  He wants all of us in Heaven, but He won’t force it.  It’s up to each of us as individuals to make that decision.  But once we’re His, it’s forever.  He never leaves us.  Life still happens.  But it’s just a fraction of a second in the grand scheme of eternity.  For me, it’s what sustains me no matter what happens.  I’m never alone, and Heaven will be indescribably wonderful.

I pray I will see you there 🙂