December 26, 2012 was the twenty-second day of our seventh month of newlywed bliss. The day after our first Christmas, it began with breakfast at the little table in our apartment on the third floor of the old converted elementary school where we lived at New Tribes Bible Institute. We had packed our bags the night before so we could get an early start on the grueling 12-hr drive from where we lived in Jackson, MI down to see my folks in Charlotte, NC. Our trip started well and we made great time until we encountered a blizzard on the Ohio turnpike.
The highway faded white in the snow storm and our memory faded black as we were both knocked unconscious by the semi that smashed our car to smithereens and left me with a traumatic brain injury, rocking our perfect little world and changing our lives forever.
After emergent brain surgery and a week-long induced coma, I opened my eyes to a life completely different than anything I had ever planned for or imagined. God chose to spare our lives and use our weakness to show His grace, love and power. I know that now. But year one of a complete physical disability was the absolute hardest of our lives.
Starting with 2+ weeks in an ICU outside Cleveland, Ohio, my journey as a medical patient continued for 14 of the longest months in my life. After two more weeks at a long term acute care hospital in Lansing, we moved to Mary Free Bed, a rehab hospital in Grand Rapids where I spent 8 months doing therapy 6 days a week (taking breaks now and then for a few more brain surgeries at the hospital next door). Following my discharge from Mary Free Bed, we lived an additional 4 months at an inpatient rehab facility, where I learned how to live with a disability outside a hospital.
February of 2014 saw us finally leaving inpatient life behind us in favor of a home of our own. We moved to a wheelchair accessible apartment that same month and embarked on the adventure of life with a disability.
Therapy continued for me, but as an outpatient, I was able to return home after my sessions and enjoy a somewhat regular life. That December God gave us our baby girl Nyra Jane, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “it’s the little things that matter.”
As we got used to being a family of three, we soon realized the walls in our apartment weren't quite big enough for all three of us to stay long term. Nyra was growing and my wheelchair wasn't getting any smaller, so we started looking and praying for a place more suited for our needs. God answered that prayer nearly two years later. In the middle of 2016, our dear friends heard we were searching for a house and did everything in their power to make our desire a reality. They started a fundraiser for us, and it soon became apparent that building new (rather than buying and modifying an already built house) would our best option. So God worked in the hearts of a lot of people to donate their time, work and money to build us a house to accommodate our family’s unique needs for years to come.
When we moved here in July, I was still doing outpatient therapy in Howell, nearly an hour’s drive from our own home in Saint Johns. Our goal from the start was for me to have therapy in our home, but that wasn't even a possibility until we built this house. This month I started therapy with a service called Rehab Without Walls. The therapists come to our home at the times and days we agree on and work with me in the room we designed in the basement specifically for my therapy. Our new everyday conditions are ideally suited for raising a family as well as my long term rehabilitation.
As we look back today on the past five years of a traumatic brain injury God placed in our lives, we can only look to Him with thankfulness. We’re not thankful in spite of the insanely hard things He’s put us through, but because of them. That’s not just a cutesy “I’m a Christian on Instagram” hashtag statement. It’s the reality that we’ve seen played out in our lives and relationship with the Creator of the universe: hard things sweep the rug of our comfort zones out from under our feet so we’re forced to fall into His waiting Daddy arms. One thing we’ve been shown and have to keep relearning is that the tighter one grips the helium balloon of ease and tangible success, the easier it becomes to lose one’s foothold on the strong mountain of God’s sufficient grace.
That’s not to say that those of us not in the midst of trials are less important to God than those who are, or that God’s grace changes when our lives do. No, God has been the same since before time began and will remain so even after the end of all things (Psalm 90:2), and His infinite grace and love is available to every person regardless of circumstance (Titus 2:11). This grace is found only in the Person of Jesus Christ, and is available to all who come to Him believing that He is the only way to God and ultimate happiness.
God in His infinite wisdom puts some of us through the ringer and others of us He allows a little bit easier lives (both have their joys and dangers). It’s not ours to ask why - He knows better than we ever will or could know (Isaiah 55:8) - but we trust Him, knowing He has our best in mind however that looks in our lives (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).
Five years. Five years of hardship. Five years of hospitals. Five years of therapy.
Five years of unexpected, sweet surprises. Five years of a kindling love in marriage burning brighter every time God throws a new log of grace on the flames. Five years of hard lessons learned. Five years of a new, clearer and better understanding of family (and three years of learning through parenting). Five amazing years of seeing God’s faithfulness firsthand. He is the reason and the rhyme behind our suffering and thriving. He is the Author of our story, and the Author controls the end as much as the beginning.