There are some moments in life that stand out more than others.
Maybe it’s the sleepless nights after having a newborn or the time when you were pregnant. Maybe it’s when you were caring for a loved one in a time of sickness or when you were thick in the details of wedding planning.
These times, whatever they may be, are usually marked by strong emotion—joy, loss, exhaustion, stress, grief, peace, anticipation, sadness.
Sometimes one particular day will stand out. Other times it’s weeks, months, and even years.
August 12, 2008 is one of those days for me. Along with the period of days, weeks, and months that followed.
This day started out like any other with a couple of exceptions.
Exception #1 – Instead of this being a typical day at home, I was enjoying a girls weekend with one of my best friends, her daughter, and my two daughters at my parent’s lake cottage. The plan was to spend two nights at the cottage. We arrived on August 11, had dinner, settled in, and then woke up on August 12 for a day of berry picking and fun water activities.
Exception #2 – While I was away, one of my very best friends, who I had known since the summer before fourth grade, was having a bone marrow transplant. She had arrived in Indianapolis the week before, and we had spent a lot of time together, visiting and talking about her upcoming procedure. This was going to make her well, and we were anxiously anticipating the outcome. I offered to stay, knowing her transplant would be on August 12, but she insisted I go. We planned for me to come and visit as soon as I returned.
The day started off as planned. We picked berries, ate lunch, and spent time playing in the water. The girls chased minnows in the shallow water by the shore while my friend and I visited. I was happy to know my friend at home was getting the treatment she needed. All was right with the world.
Naptime rolled around. The girls fell asleep, and my friend and I prepared to enjoy some quiet time outdoors—floating in the water, resting on the hammock, and generally just enjoying one another’s company.
The phone rang. It was one of those calls that sound like any other when you first hear the ring.
You are completely clueless that when you pick up the phone and say hello the news on the other line is about to change everything.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
My friend’s husband had been in a horrible accident. He had quit his job to pursue ministry and, to make some extra money, had taken a part-time job with a landscaping company. That day, he had been riding a standing lawnmower, and while on an incline the mower had fallen on top of him. This was all we knew. We also knew it wasn’t good and that he was being transported via ambulance.
We needed to get back. Now.
This is one of those moments in life that is somehow simultaneously slow motion and also, incredibly fast-moving. We threw our stuff into bags, woke the girls and, with little explanation, said we had to get home. We quickly ran out the door. I drove while my friend talked, or mostly listened, on the phone. She was trying to keep it together, as the tears flowed heavily and steadily down her cheeks. She said words like accident and fire and then sobbed out the word paralyzed.
It wasn’t good.
She still didn’t have all the details but knew the lawnmower had caught on fire with him trapped underneath. And that he was burnt badly. We also knew he may be paralyzed.
I drove as fast as I could.
When we arrived at the hospital, I dropped her off and said, “I have your daughter.” She said, “OK.”
For the next days, weeks, and months, her daughter lived with us while she stayed at the hospital caring for her husband as best she could. For the first weeks, when he was in the burn unit and his condition was questionable, her daughter stayed with us nightly. As he improved and eventually moved to rehab, her stay with us gradually decreased to a few nights a week.
During this time, it was also becoming increasingly apparent that something was wrong with my friend’s bone marrow transplant. She was having digestive issues, had broken out in a terrible rash, and more. There was no denying it, she had developed graft-versus-host disease.
When I think back on this time in my life, while it was painful, it was also a time of tremendous growth.
The days and nights were long. We had a 2-year old, a daughter who was just a few months old, and now also a 4-year old living with us as well. We would spend the days either trying to distract her from the reality of what was happening, or at the hospital facing it head-on.
Their hospitals were right next door to each other. Some days would be spent going from one to the other. In the evenings, after the kids were asleep, I would often head to the hospital to be with my friend. Sometimes just to be with her until she was ready for sleep, and other nights to spend the night. I was nursing, so I would take my pump and wake up throughout the night to do what nursing mamas do.
My heart ached deeply for my friends. They were experiencing so much pain and suffering.
It felt like too much sometimes. All that pain.
All I knew to do at that moment was to show up.
I didn’t ask what was needed. I just did.
And while I was doing for them, my husband was doing for me. He would leave late in the morning for work, and come home early from work, only to finish up anything at night that he couldn’t get done during the day. He took extra care of things around the house. He would kiss me goodbye when I would head out the door and tell me he had it all under control.
I remember those nights so well—driving to and from by myself —trying to process what was happening. And while many of the car rides were spent in tears, there was also a tremendous peace. I could feel God’s presence with me. I felt a closeness to Him as I surrendered my days and my nights.
I knew He was calling me to love those in my life through service, and I knew He would provide.
Eventually, my friend’s husband left rehab and returned home to their house that had been completely remodeled by our church to make it handicap accessible. Their family was finally back together, at home, reunited under their roof. There was still a long journey ahead, but they were beginning to adjust to their new normal.
My friend with graft-versus-host left the hospital and moved into a short-term residence so she could still attend her appointments regularly. Her family came to stay with her often, as well as some other family members and friends and myself. Although she was very sick, I have so many sweet memories of our time together in the apartment—talking, playing cards, and making meals.
I could go on and on about these days, weeks, and months. So many memories from this period of time are fresh in my mind. I can remember sights, smells, laughter, and tears.
But what I remember most is the presence of God.
He met people in my life in ways I had never seen before. He met me in ways I had never experienced. In the pain and the suffering and the anguish. As people cried out, “Why?!”
As I tucked our friends’ daughter into bed at night and kissed the top of her 3-year old head and thought of her parents and what they were dealing with and the fact she would probably never remember how very tall her dad was as he once stood beside her.
As I watched my friend’s three boys and husband come to visit her in the apartment, only to have to turn around and drive back home—two hours away, a couple of days later, wondering when she would be able to come home and they could all be together again.
As I nursed my baby and hugged her tight to my chest in the middle of the night, in a state of pure exhaustion but also more confident than ever before that the exhaustion was worth it. We were doing what needed to be done.
In the pain, there was peace. In the uncertainty, still joy. In the grief, comfort.
He was there. He was holding them up. He was holding me up. He was holding us all.
There is more to this story. During this time, my dad and stepmom decided to divorce. I found out I was pregnant and was incredibly sick in my first trimester. We decided to move. And I experienced my first ever panic attack.
People were hurting deeply, all around us. It was a time of great pain and suffering, but also a time where I tangibly felt God’s presence and saw His love in action each and every day. People stepped up daily.
In so many ways, I can’t even begin to list them all. Meals were made for both of my friends and their families and for my family as well. Our friends’ home was made handicap accessible. At Christmas, a group of friends gathered to go from room to room and sing carols on the floor of the hospital where my friend who had the bone marrow transplant was staying. Her apartment was decorated for Christmas so she and her family could experience Christmas together with a tree and stockings and lights. Friends of mine who had never met her before would take a meal and go and stay with her to visit.
Each and every day. Community. In action. I witnessed it. I was a part of it. I was blown away by it.
It was a picture of God’s love. In times of tragedy. In times of pain. In times of anguish. And isolation. And exhaustion. And confusion. He reached down. And touched us all.
With His love. And His peace. And His compassion. And His provision.
There are some moments in life that stand out more than others.
Some moments that will be forever etched into the depths of our mind. We can reach in and smell the smells and see the sights and feel all the feels.
And we thank God for seeing us through. And showing us the joy and the peace that lies so close to the anguish and the pain.
In my life, this was one of those moments.