When I was in college I heard a sermon preached out of Psalms 57. That chapter of Psalms is a song of David from when he had fled from Saul and hid in a cave. He was in this cave fearing for his life and his future and he cried out to God. His cries to God turned into praise for God.
During this sermon, the preacher made the statement that no matter who you are, this Psalm applies to your life. You're either going into a cave, you're in a cave, or you're coming out of a cave.
Everyone has at least one cave or "dark time" in their lives. Some of us have several. And sometimes we have really dark times; these are usually the ones that change your life. Not just in how you live your life, but how you remember it. It divides time into what happened before and what happened after.
A Tale of a Thousand X-RaysShortly after I heard this sermon preached, I entered into the Frequent Flyer Program at my Doctor's Office (my apologies to the nurses at Ty's schools, it would seem he comes by it honestly). I can't remember the order that my injuries or ailments happened, but I remember that it all began in November of 2001. One visit was for a shoulder that I had hurt in horseplay with friends. Another was for a cold turned infection. And then one morning when I was rolling over to turn off my alarm clock, I experienced a loud pop and a shock of pain in my chest, just above my heart.
I had several doctor visits including x-rays but there was some trouble getting a good view on the issue. Thankfully my Doctor wasn't a doctor that was content to give his best guess, you could tell that he wanted to make sure that he knew what the issue was. On February 27th of that year, my grandfather's birthday, I had a bone-scan that revealed a bright, vibrant unknown something in the same area that I had experienced the pain and popping. Right over my heart.
I asked the tech what that was usually indicative of. If he said anything other than the word 'tumor', I never heard it. I spent the rest of the day and that night in a terrible emotional state. There were tears and prayers and prayers and tears. It was the most alone I had ever felt. I knew God was hearing my prayers, but I need confirmation that he was listening.
The following day, on my sister's birthday, my doctor called me personally to let me know that it wasn't a tumor, it was arthritis. Apparently one side of my ribs had grown slightly longer than the other side which left my sternum off-set at an angle. The loud popping noise I felt when I had rolled over to turn off my alarm clock was one of my ribs dislocating. He also advised me that this may be an issue I might deal with in the future as well, and he was right. The area that showed up on the bone-scan was arthritis surrounding the dislocated rib.
And that day, with a much lighter heart, I cried and I prayed and I prayed and I cried. And I was grateful that I wouldn't have to shave my head or lose my hair. (It would seem that one's mind tends to get carried away in these situations...)
I thought my Doctors' visits were finally coming to a conclusion, but in March I had a four-wheeler roll back on me as I was crossing a creek that had been rutted up pretty badly. The next day my left hand was several glove-sizes bigger and the skin was a variety of colors, so off to the Doctor I went. Problem was, I had another doctor appointment that day with a back specialist in the opposite direction. I was examined, x-rayed, and eventually casted just in time to leave there, go home, and get in the car with my mom who was taking me to the other doctor appointment.
That doctor, upon checking out my brand new blue cast and viewing my recent history and issues, recommended that I be locked into a padded room for my own protection.
A Life ChangedJust as my own medical problems started to subside, we received a phone call early one Sunday morning. My cousin Jerrid, who was my age, had been in a wreck and had been life-flighted to Wichita, KS. As information would unfold, he had been driving too fast in a souped up car and less-than-ideal road conditions. When he lost control the vehicle vaulted end-over-end numerous times. He was ejected onto the hood of the car as it had vaulted. His back was broken, we knew this, but we didn't know what the long-term result of that injury would be but we were hopeful.
Since we were two states away, we waited anxiously for phone calls and updates. While fearing for his life, I also began to fear for Jerrid's future. What would life look like for him on the other side of this? His life was irrevocably changed. And then we got a call that gave hope to the situation.
"Jerrid was saved."
My precious grandmother sat down with him and was able to lead him to The Lord.
Once Jerrid was in more stable condition, I was able to talk to him on the phone. We hadn't talked in ages. Though we were close in age and enjoyed each other on the occasions that we were both at our grandparents house for the holidays at the same time (something that happened less and less often as we got older), we had never maintained a closeness.
Thankfully, that would change.
A Cousin is a Forever FriendFollowing his wreck, we talked on the phone daily. He would tell me about his day at the hospital and what flavors of yogurt he had that day. Cherry was his favorite. He promised me that when we made it up to see him he would save a cup of cherry yogurt just for me, I didn't tell him that I hated yogurt. It was during this time that he started calling me 'Turbo'. Daily he would tell me he loved me, and I the same. The weekend after his wreck, we were able to drive from south-central Arkansas through Oklahoma and up to Wichita. When we got there I was given the biggest smile, a strained hug...and a cup of cherry yogurt that I ate with a happy heart and without complaint.
I slept on the floor of the hospital room that night. If you could say I slept. He had a scare earlier that day before we got there. His lungs had filled with fluid and one of his chest tubes had come out and it had obviously been a serious situation. There was a little device on the side of the bed next to where I was sleeping that was measuring the fluid being pulled from his lungs. I stared at it all night long and listened for the sound of his breathing. When he got quiet, I got worried.
We spent the weekend at the hospital with him and I was grateful to see him smile and laugh and put on a brave face. But it was challenging to leave.
We continued to talk almost daily and my plans began to change around how I could help him. He was eventually released from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility that taught him the ins and outs of his life after the wreck in his new Kawasaki Green wheelchair (his favorite color). He was focused on getting back on the right path. He had never completed high school and so he set his hopes on getting his GED and wanted to go to college after that. He just wasn't sure what he wanted to do. My major was Computer Information Systems and he really started to think in that direction. His whole life he had been taking things apart just to see how they worked, he was innately curious. More than once he mentioned me coming to Kansas. He would be finishing his GED around the same time I finished college. I could work on my Masters at the same time that he earned a degree and then we could go into business together.
That conversation kept coming up. The closer I got to graduation, the more I considered it. It would be a great new adventure for me out on my own, but it would also help him. It would give him some independence while still having family to help him.
A Summer of MemoriesIn the summer of 2003, I made a decision that was so unlike me. Little Miss Responsible quit her job, gave up her apartment, and drove to Kansas for the summer. It was one of the best decisions that I'll never regret. My aunt and uncle will never know how deeply I appreciate and how grateful I am to them that they allowed me to stay with them that summer. As a self-focused twenty-something I never took the time to adequately express my gratitude to them. Now I'll never be able to put words to it.
The trip was around 550 miles, one-way. If I remember right, it took somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 or 12 hours at that time. In the weeks leading up to my summer adventure I had burned more than a dozen CDs of music. I made the drive with my music turned up almost as loudly as I was singing. I was within two hours of my destination when I started to think about what I wanted that summer to mean to me. I wanted to change lives. I wanted everyone I met to feel like they were a better person because they met me. I wanted to add value to the lives of others.
I don't know that I was successful because I was the recipient of those things. Through my family I made friends with people throughout the community. I spent hours just driving around Kansas and falling in love with the openness and the beauty of where they lived. I was able to spend valuable time with my aunt, my uncle, and my cousins. I made memories that I would never have had otherwise. I had intended, when I started planning the trip, to go to Kansas and explore the idea of Grad School and helping Jerrid through the next phase of his life. By the end of summer, I could tell that Jerrid would be just fine whether I was there or not. He had friends and he had a girlfriend and he had a support system. I could still consider Grad School (I still had another year left to complete my degree), but it wasn't a decision I would have to make right then.
Some Unexpected NewsAs I came back to Arkansas and started back to school, Jerrid and I still kept in contact regularly. He started college and seemed to be making new friends. We both seemed to be getting busier and busier with college. Instead of talking a few times a week, it was often once a week. And then it was every few weeks. And then it was December and it had been a month since I'd last talked to Jerrid. I was driving home from visiting a college friend that had graduated earlier that year. It was an ungodly hour and I kept thinking about Jerrid. I needed to call him. I was tempted to call him right then. It had been too long since we talked and the last time I had talked to him he was devastated because his girlfriend had broken up with him. I almost called him in the middle of the night. I knew there was a good chance he would still be awake (he was very much a night owl) and on the off chance that I woke him up, I was sure he would forgive me. But I didn't. I didn't want to chance waking him up.
The next morning, on Sunday, December 14, 2003, I got up and was getting ready for church like I always do. My parents had been up and around. I didn't realize at the time that they weren't getting ready for church. It would have struck me as odd if I'd realized it. When I came downstairs my Daddy stopped me and with a serious face told me he needed to talk to me.
Now this did strike me as odd. My fun-loving Daddy is seldom serious, which is why I initially suspected that he was about to pull some joke or prank on me. When he told me that Jerrid had killed himself, it took a moment for it to sink in. My initial thought was, 'That's not funny, why would he joke about that!' And then I knew he would never joke about that.
The Great DivideAnd my heart stopped and my blood stilled and a dividing line was written across the pages of my life.
That was a moment that separated time.
Everything that happened before that moment wasn't just in a different chapter in my life, suddenly it felt like it was a different book. That was all before Jerrid died. I don't fully remember what happened in those particular moments almost twelve years ago. What I do remember, and what this entire story has been all about, is what happened in the moments after my initial shock and response.
The Calm in the StormWhen I went back upstairs and into my room, I shut the door and I knelt at a chest that was at the foot of my bed. I closed my eyes and I laid my head down on the chest and I wept. There were no words. I couldn't express any thoughts even in my head and so I just opened my heart up to God. And in the silence and the depth of pain, I very clearly and very physically felt arms around me. I'll never be able to explain the experience in any way that does it justice. I was in His lap. Had I opened my eyes at that moment, I would have fully expected to find myself in the lap of God with His arms wrapped around me. As the hurt poured out of my heart, a comfort was being poured into it, too.
The year before when I cried and prayed and prayed and cried I had longed to know that God was listening to my words. Here, in that moment, I had no words but there was absolutely no room for doubt that God heard everything my soul was pouring out to Him.
By grace alone, I composed myself and dressed in a t-shirt I had made and gotten signed by my Kansas friends and I went to church. I couldn't tell you what that sermon was about that day. I just remember the hugs and the hands held and the love and support given to me. It was God's embrace in human form.
You are not broken. You are not a burden. You are a valuable, wonderful person. And each and every person has a future ahead of them that is worth living. Life is hard and life hurts. But it gets better. It gets SO much better.
We want you there, in your future, to see that. We want to share our joys with you and we want you to know that you will also have joys to share with us. You don't have to suffer alone, we can share this together.