From Michelle. 26 September, 2010 9 a.m.
Dear friends and family,
Another week has flown by with its own unique set of challenges and triumphs. It has been a landmark few days… but I’ll start at the beginning.
Last week we went as a family to the beach. We are still tentative about outings. The strangeness of navigating the world in a wheelchair, the time it takes to load and unload Steve, and the sheer emotional nature of experiencing life in a more limited capacity keep Steve close to home much of the time, outside of the host of therapy appointments. We are all the more grateful for the beauty of the home we’ve been given, since we do indeed spend so much time in the safety of its confines.
But on this day we ventured forth. We had heard that there was a park with handicapped access nearby. It proved to be a lovely place, with a wild beach and few people. There were a few set backs: the five inch ledge where they’d placed boards to keep an area from flooding – we called a stranger to help and guided the chair for a bit of off-road climbing! – and the fact that the paved part ended right at the end of the tunnel at the beach, so that Steve could proceed no further. Steve enjoyed his little perch, however, watching me and the boys play in the sand and in the water, and we all enjoyed the fresh air and a taste of wild nature after our extended domesticity.
More prophetic words could not have been spoken. The next day at our Harborview physical therapy appointment, the therapist casually suggested that Steve try the parallel bars. These are set up for one purpose alone: to support people while walking. We both stammered out our enthusiasm but not without a little bit of trepidation! Steve was, after all, standing, but still struggled to lift his legs while in that position, and only for very short, concentrated periods of time. I think we both felt that at best he would take a few steps and collapse, exhausted.
I stood far off where the camera could capture the spectacle and held my breath, praying for a good experience for Steve. Right before the appointment I had also prayed for encouragement: “Lord, please encourage us today. If you mean for Steve to walk, please give us a glimpse of it today.” You would think that I would pray such prayers often, but much of the time I am more preoccupied with finding grace for our present, to humbly embrace what has been given.
Steve pulled himself up with the help of his therapist and began tentatively to move forward. One leg and then the other. Painfully and with the greatest of effort. But his legs and feet were responding! Slowly he made his way to the end of the bars. I think we both thought he was done, but no. The therapist said, “Ok, now turn around.” Amazingly, Steve did. And back to his chair. And one more round.
I was weeping the whole time. In June, as Steve was lying in the ICU entirely motionless from the nipple line down, I had a secret prayer I prayed. It was that on our 10th anniversary, December 30th, 2010, Steve would take a few steps. Now, I was seeing it far sooner than my wildest dreams and secret prayers could have imagined. I laughingly scolded Steve, who knew about my prayer, that he was not supposed to be doing this yet!
The next day, Steve did it again, this time in a walker in our bedroom and then in our living room, accompanied by two physical therapists. The next day, he did it again at another appointment. We are elated. Steve feels tentative as well, as he navigates this fresh hope. As he says, the closer he gets to walking again, the more fragile he feels. Indeed, the hope becomes so burning and so close to realization that the possibility that it might not be realized becomes all the more painful. We cannot know how well Steve will walk – whether it will be for only a few steps, whether it will be with a walker or a cane, whether it will be with braces, or in complete freedom, but at this point I feel that we can confidently say, he will walk again. Somehow. His fingers, his altered sensation, the inability to feel hot and cold, the level of strength he might regain remain in question, but this amazing milestone remains. First steps! Long before our anniversary! And for this we are grateful beyond measure.
You’d think that with all of this grace, all of this amazing, undeserved, wonderful recovery, we would be continually elated. The walking moments remain small pinnacles of light, however, in the continued drudgery of the day to day. It still takes several hours to get Steve ready each day. He still watches us play on the beach. We still inch along with all of agonizing paperwork and detail. We still trust in the darkness, not knowing where we are headed. As I write, I am stealing time amidst the daily preparations and Steve is patiently enduring his daily regimen. But I was reminded again this morning of the verses that were given to me at the very beginning of our vacation, this time in the Message translation: “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friend, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
This faith journey cannot be solely fixated on whether or not Steve is healed. It must be about so much more. For there is much that is true and noble and beautiful in our lives. The discipline, the journey, the exercise for us is to see it and embrace it despite all that is also ugly, dark and cursed. These first steps are a part of that journey, a gift, a mercy and a grace that helps us to see. And for that, we humbly rejoice!