I am not the type of person who remembers dates very well (I have forgotten my own birthday more than once), but I think I will remember June 8, 2017, for the rest of my life. On that Thursday, I was scheduled to take a flight from Washington, D.C., to Moscow, Russia, on the way to a mission trip. I thank God I never got on that flight. On the drive up to Washington D.C., I suffered two strokes that, in the short term, took away my ability to walk or speak clearly or to read.
At first, they thought I had vertigo. I went to Lynchburg General’s emergency room and after an MRI, they determined I had two strokes. From there, I was taken to Richmond where I spent the next three days in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at MCV. After a weekend in Richmond, I was able to start reading again and to take very, very wobbly steps. Even now, over two months later, the left side of my body is not as coordinated as my right. I do not walk with a cane, but I tend to walk slowly.
I spend most of my weeks going to rehabilitation where really great professionals (and really great people!) help me regain physical strength and balance.
I’m asked quite a bit how I’m doing, and here’s the real deal: many days, not great. Physically, I’m doing fine. I can walk and play catch with the kids. I can get up in the morning and shower and make breakfast and get ready by myself. I struggle hard with frustration and anger and sometimes it comes out as yelling at the kids or at Sunday (my wife). I wish I could say that I pray and read the Bible and it all calms down before I lose my patience. I wish I could say that I simply count my blessings. Sometimes, I don’t have the self-control to do that.
I know it could have been much, much worse. Sometimes, I forget that. People die from strokes all the time. I have many friends whose lives are much tougher than mine. But I’m still selfish and frustrated.
In May, I went on an elders’ retreat where we read Philippians 3, which begins by encouraging the reader to rejoice in the Lord.
Here’s the part of chapter 3 that keeps buzzing in my head:
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:14-16 ESV)
Press on. It sounds pretty tough. Quite a bit of effort. Some pain. Maybe even a setback or two.
“Pressing on” doesn’t seem like a one-size-fits-all plan. Pressing on looks different for different people. At my lowest, I tend to forget Philippians 3.
So “pressing on” means I try to remember a couple things:
God’s love for me is not measured by my current circumstances. God’s love is measured by the incarnation (John 1:14), the cross (Romans 5:8) and the empty tomb (1 Peter 1:3) — this is just a very short list.
I am not alone in this. By God’s grace, I am surrounded by people who have prayed for me, talked to me, and (YES!) fed me. The outpouring of love to me and my family has been great — and I need to remember I am not alone in this.
Most days are up and down. Yet I try to live in a way where my circumstances or emotions don’t get too high or too low. I know that I’m not here to merely survive. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to press on. Every. Day.