My life was normal, actually it was so much better than normal, until I was 29. I was born into a family where the words “I love you”, “I believe in you” were spoken freely and daily. We believed in each other and supported one another’s dreams. When things went wrong, I had a close knit group to catch me.
I got to go to a big SEC college and I was in all these fun organizations and honor societies. I worked hard but I got to play and laugh really hard too. My college degree is in speech pathology. That profession requires a master’s degree in addition to a college degree. I set my sights on a program in North Carolina and worked diligently to be accepted into it. I came alive in North Carolina. I lived there for almost a decade, after graduate school I got to work at a fabulous medical center.
My 20’s were magical.
When I was 28, I moved back to Georgia because I wanted to be near my family and I had the opportunity to work with patients on a unique brain injury unit. Career wise, it was exciting, I was narrowing my scope of practice. In all other aspects of life, I did not realize what I had let go of until I had moved away from my fun and cool part of the country.
I remember the moment that the reality of my move hit me: I was driving to orientation at my new job. As I drove away from my sassy apartment in the “right” section of this big city, I headed down a famous street and passed fancy landmarks while my eyes pooled with tears. I thought “what have I done? i left all of my friends, i left everything and everyone i loved without thinking about how much i would really miss them…?”
Glossy-eyed, I drove past the fancy landmarks of this big city and went on to my first day at my new job.
I loved being a speech therapist on the brain injury unit, and I loved my patients. It was a challenging position; you can’t imagine how much you and your team bond with a person and their family as you spend days, weeks, months helping them rehabilitate from coma states and back into the world with their new reality, a person who has a brain injury. You grow to love those people and they (ususally) grow to love their team back.
I worked there for 1-1/2 years and then July 3rd, 2001 happened.
On July 3rd I collapsed at work and my colleagues rushed me to the adjacent ER where I was tested, hydrated and sent home. Later that night my father rushed me back to the ER. My intestines were hemorrhaging and my entire body was in excruciating pain.
There were no open rooms in the ER and a nurse was walking through the waiting room checking temperatures to make sure that any patient who needed immediate help was noted. I was curled into a ball, rocking back in forth in agony when she took my temperature. My fever registered at 104.7. She rushed my father and me back to an orthopedic supply room which would serve as our ER room for the night. That night was filled with long hours of scary and painful procedures.
The morning of July the 4th, we were exhausted. I was in a bed in the Transitional Care Unit which is where patients stay until a hospital room becomes available. My father was still by my side and my mother was on her way to the hospital. Suddenly I had a GI doctor. Suddenly I was “strong” because that is what happens when you get really sick or when your world collapses: everyone tells you that you are strong and inspirational (when you don’t feel like you are strong, you don’t even want to be the strong person). You are still you, now you just have more trauma and you must figure out how to get through it.
That morning of the 4th, my GI doctor told us that I had either crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. I remember laying in the bed thinking “oh, I won’t be able to eat corn” because I had once known someone who could not eat corn due to colitis. I think I was too sick to process what he was saying when he gave me that diagnosis. I did not connect the dots that he was giving me a name for my new reality.
I was in the hospital for the majority of that summer and early fall. Day after day, I lay in that hospital bed wondering when I would start to feel better, when I would get to go home.
I began to understand what my new reality involved and it was very scary.
My life had literally been turned upside down overnight. That summer, the doctors had to insert a central line IV into my heart to feed me, I had to receive blood transfusions. 911 happened and I spent the following week trying to distract myself from the scary images on the TV in the corner of my hospital room.
I did not want to be in the hospital during a national emergency, I wanted to be at home with my family and my dog.
My friends were getting married and having babies and I was learning to lamaze breathe to get through the pain of crohn’s.
That was the first time it happened…the thought that brought both a brief escape and a lot of sadness as I wondered, “What if I had never moved back to Georgia? What if I had stayed up in North Carolina? I loved my life there, I was healthy there, maybe I never would have gotten sick if I had just stayed there. “
I countered those questions with the comforting thought that, “no, God brought me back just in time because He knew I needed to be near my family when I got sick”.
It took a few years to get better and my awesome family rehabilitated me.
Once I was strong again, I moved to a cute town in South Carolina and fell in love with life again. There are several people who will always be part of my heart, they were such good friends to me. And for a while, I was totally strong and happy and normal. But then I got sick and eventually I got so sick that I had to move back to Georgia. We had no clue what was wrong with me but I had endless fevers, endless nose bleeds, bone pain, upper respiratory infections, I could not stay awake, I was totally not normal for a year.
A couple of months after moving back to Georgia, I was back in the same big hospital that housed me in the early 2000’s. This time around, I met my oncologist and learned that I had leukemia.
Once again, my thoughts drifted back to the decision I made at 28, when I left North Carolina and my entire life flipped upside down. “What if I had never left North Carolina? Maybe I would not have gotten crohns? Maybe I would never have had to take the medicine (that helps crohns but might have caused leukemia)?”
Again, I countered it with “God knew I needed to be close to my family when I got sick, so He got me here in time”.
Recently, my husband and I were back up in North Carolina for a few years. I kid you not, we moved back to Georgia and 7 months later, the leukemia relapsed. And the past 5 months have been very painful (you know all about it if you read this blog).
I cannot tell you how many times my mind drifts to “what if”…that big decision I made when I was 28. At the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do and because up until then, life had come so easily to me, I only saw the positives of the move. I honestly did not think about the negatives of moving away from a place and people I loved so much.
Since I have literally gotten sick (as in crohns disease, leukemia, leukemia relapse) each time I have moved back to Georgia, you can see where it is tempting to fall back on the question of
“what if I had never moved the first time? Could all of this illness have been prevented?”.
I have wrestled that question to the ground a thousand times and of course tears have been shed over the very idea that maybe I could have had a different course if I had chosen differently.
This is why the word redemption is one of my very favorite words ever.
Merriam-Webster defines redeem as “to make (something that is bad, unpleasant, etc.) better or more acceptable”.
Years ago, that word became personal to me. It was one of those times when everything seemed hopeless. I was in the car and had been crying and telling God that I felt like all of this was my fault; that I had made a series of poor choices and that is why I am in the position that I am in.
I turned on the radio and the song “I know my Redeemer Lives” came on and it hit me, the Christian message of redemption became personal. And while the message of eternal life is absolutely glorious and filled with grace, that day redemption became part of my daily walk with God. While I listened to the words of that song,I felt like someone lifted a million pounds off of my shoulders. I was flooded with relief at knowing that even though I do make poor choices at times, He can and does turn them around for me.
So even if that decision to move back to Georgia when I was 28 led to me taking a medication that eventually caused leukemia…He is still my redeemer and He is still turning my situation around in ways that I do not understand.
That song freed me that day. My heart stopped hurting so badly and yes, I still have times when I wonder “what if” but I know more than ever, that regardless of the decisions I have made along the way, my redeemer fixes them for me.
Here is the song, it will bless you. Tomorrow is Easter, it is the day that Christians celebrate the risen Lord.
I know My Redeemer Lives.