It was 5 years ago today. November 25, 2014. The day the battle began.
It started with surgery, a surgery that would leave me marked in a way I didn’t yet comprehend. All I knew is that I didn’t have any other options. All my other options had been exhausted in the years before, and none worked. My best chance at life was six-month dance with death.
Of course, I had no way of understanding the long-term cost.
In some cases, ignorance really is bliss.
For the last twenty-four hours I’ve been remembering that day five years ago. I remembered the early morning drive to the hospital, and the fallen face of my husband before they wheeled me back to surgery. I remembered the operating room filled with a dozen surgeons and nurses and techs and the long, slow struggle to wake myself up in the ICU.
Also, I remembered the two weeks without water and many more weeks without food, and the sudden awareness of the impossibility of going back in time, hitting me like a wave of cement. And I remembered the difficulty learning to function those weeks in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when so much of the world was celebrating and I was mourning.
After about an hour of that kind of remembering, I realized I was no longer honoring what had happened. I was reliving it. And it was sucking the life right out of me.
And so I decided to do something different.
Quietly, I pulled out the large yellow bag I had hidden in the laundry room behind the door. Five years ago, at the same time I started a battle, I also started a collection. A collection of cards, letters, emails. A collection of notes that came with bouquets of flowers and delivered meals, and hand-written index cards with favorite verses.
I dumped them all on the family room floor. And, over the course of several hours, I read each one again.
As I read the names of hundreds of friends and neighbors and strangers who entered into my story with me, helping our family carry an impossible grief, I remembered something else:
I wasn’t alone. God had been with me all along. In the car and the operating room, in the ICU and in my family room. And He had shown himself to me, in large part, through the presence of His people.
Men and women and children who set aside a few minutes or hours to let me know they were praying for our family, that I wasn’t alone, and that the God we both loved would find a way to carry us through.
My friends, this Thanksgiving you and I can choose to focus on all we’ve lost, all that has gone wrong. We would be within our rights to do so. Some of you have weathered circumstances I can not fathom. And there is certainly worth in honoring the battles we’ve endured.
But it’s also worthy to remember the unexpected gifts that helped us get through. The sight of a sunrise, the words of a stranger, the comfort of warm fire. And the many friends—seen and unseen—who fought in battle right alongside us.
And it’s worthy to remember the God who never left us, the One who took on pain, so we’d never be alone in our own.
This is a life-giving kind of remembering. And although I’m certain to have more days of mourning, today I’m celebrating.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Thank you for the many ways you have carried me over the last five years. You have held me up when I could not stand, prayed for me when I could not pray. I have no words for the gratitude I feel when I remember the way God’s presence has shone through you. I will never forget. And I will always be thankful.
And whether you spend the days of this week mourning or celebrating or doing a little bit of both, may you, too, see glimmers of the face of the God who loves you more than you know.
He is with us.
So beautiful and such a wonderful reminder. Thank you for using your painful journey to point us to Jesus.
Although my pain has been emotional instead of physical, I, too, am awestruck by the way God’s tenderness and encouragement has poured through people, you included.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you and inspired to use my pain and lessons learned to comfort and encourage others the way that you do.
I learned from you that one of the best ways to cope is to be grateful. I also have been blessed with the amazing people God has placed in my path. This includes the words from your first book that helped carry me through an ugly divorce. Many cannot understand how I’m not bitter over how things turned out. I live intentionally and focus on what I’ve been given. I refuse to waste a day or a moment knowing I choose my emotions, my outlook. I’m not the same person I was. I am stronger, focused, and most importantly, happy. Thank you for being a part of that.
It is not by chance that I am reading your book right now as a struggle with the pain of an inflamed sciatica nerve. On steroids and having to use a walker to get around, which is very humbling for me. Your book is so timely . Reminding me of God’s goodness all the time and in all circumstances. I thank God for your willingness to be so open and raw.
This came at such a good time. We just got the pathology report from the doctor yesterday. It’s not the worst news and not the best. We were hoping we’d be done with this journey, but it’s on to the oncologist. It helps to know there have been people who have gone before me/us. We are so thankful for God and his tender love for us shown through friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
What a great reminder of all we have and take for granted! I’ve not myself had a life altering situation but my family has had its share. Many times questioning God is in the front of our mind, yet He is the answer! I’m so thankful for you, Michele, for the reminder that He never forsake us and how close He is!
Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family!
I recall well your recounting those days in 2014. Your post, RED SEA MOMENTS, preceded your surgery and was prophetic in the sense of your only recourse was for God to show up and do what you could not do. That post, which I consider a classic, was instrumental in my own life at the time (and still is!) as reflected in the associated comments. So glad we serve a faithful God! He is not yet finished revealing His goodness through you! Happy Milestone Day…Bruce
I have lupus. I was told this in 1988. I didn’t even know what that was. At first I was relieved, because I had been sick for a very long time. I soon found out that I was wrong to be relieved. I have had many surgeries on my intestines and a lot of problems with my digestive system. I am in a wheelchair also. Your books have been a real help for me. I have always trusted in Jesus, but sometimes in this crazy world of ours, we feel alone. I want to thank you for being so honest!
I just finished Relentless. Thank you again and again for the three books you have written, I have learned and grown so much because you decided to share your story and life with us. I am great full for you and may God bless you
And put a hedge of protection around you and your family because you have made satan mad. Yea!
Dear Sister, I met you at the SCORRE Conference in November 2014, just a few days before you were entered into this chapter of your life. You took the time to talk with me, a woman alone and lost, after the sessions were over, and the words you spoke into my heart and soul have stayed with me every day since. I have watched, listened, and learned, in awe, as you have allowed us to share in your massive ordeal. I share with Bruce Cross in my ongoing cherishing of your RED SEA MOMENTS post, and in the many more since that have showered sparks of luminous God-moments in the midst of dark struggles. I would have commented on this post immediately but my young daughter-in-law died that day. My son married her knowing they had at most a handful of years. In the end they had just over ten, most of which she spent in staggering pain and unending joy. How immensely our Lord uses the sufferings of His loved ones to prop up, and then encourage, and then inspire, and then challenge, the seemingly more blessed, but weakest, of His children. You are the backbone of the Body of Christ. Thank you.