A wise friend told me something a few weeks ago that changed the way I look at struggles: Pain is not a competition. It all just hurts.
And so maybe that’s why it’s hard to decide where to start. It’s all brokenness. It’s all messiness. But most importantly, it’s all grace.
Grace is love and forgiveness no matter what. Grace is, simply, a purpose in the pain.
When I was in eighth grade, static became dramatic in a matter of minutes. It was Election Day, year 2000. You know, the Bush vs. Gore infamous “hanging chad” incident.
Before I walked in the door after school that day, my life was in a bit of disarray, but nothing unmanageable. My dad had lost his job again; it had happened before, I said, and we would be okay again, just like we had before, I figured.
I was 13 and hated middle school. Home wasn’t exactly peaceful, but anything was a respite from the popular girls. And so I unlocked the front door as usual, with my lone key on my red, rubber “S” (for Sarah) keyring. But something felt off when I walked through the door.
My mom didn’t greet me warmly. No smile, no nothing. I sat down at my family’s kitchen table, my usual spot. Didn’t seem like an appropriate time to snag an after-school snack.
Her voice quivered: “Come to the phone, Sarah.” I did as I was told.
Putting the receiver to my ear, I heard my dad’s voice. Despite his words, he sounded confident as ever.
“Sarah,” said my dad. His voice was hoarse, but steady. “I am in the hospital now. I need you to know everything will be okay. Be good to Mommy and help her out.”
I blinked furiously to keep the tears away.
“How was school? Do you have a lot of homework?” he queried, like it was a normal phone call on a normal day. He asked to talk to my mom. I said good-bye and said I loved him.
“I love you, too, Sarah,” he replied. I handed the phone to my mom.
And I cried.
The more time between that fateful day and the present, the more I wonder what my life today would be without it. I remember tears and tears and tears and this vast uncertainty.
I remember kneeling on the pink carpet in our bathroom, nose to the tile, praying my first prayer of desperation. I wasn’t quite sure who God was, and I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about Him. But I knew I needed him.
In that moment, in between tears, I whispered how scared I was. I whispered how alone I was. And I whispered that I knew I couldn’t stand on my own two feet any longer. Whatever my dad was facing, whatever my family was facing, whatever I was facing and would face . . . I knew I couldn’t handle it alone. I needed this God, whoever He was. And even though I called myself a believer since singing Jesus Loves Me in preschool circle time, that moment solidified my faith.
No one would know what exactly was wrong with my dad for a few days. After the results of many tests, we learned that my dad had suffered a stroke. He was in the hospital for a total of three weeks. Luckily, my dad was not affected cognitively: his brain still functioned normally. However, he was left disabled on his left side.
With every visit we made to my dad’s hospital room, I learned the value of little victories. I’ll always remember the time when my sister, my mom and I entered my dad’s room and greeted him verbally. My dad did not reply; rather, he merely lifted his once immobile left arm and waved with his left hand. Something we take for granted – a simple wave – was a huge victory for my dad.
Friends, we serve a God who works in ways of all sizes. God works in the big and works in the little. No matter the size, these victories are always worth celebrating.
And God works through other people too, I learned. The doorbell rang late one evening when my dad was still in the hospital. Standing on the doorstep was a friend and her mother, holding a crock pot containing a roast chicken and couscous. We had not asked for anything; they brought us food anyway. It was a glimpse of how God loves us: we’re unworthy and he generously pours it out anyway.
Over the course of the next year and a half, my dad would make remarkable progress. Physical therapy and modern medicine brought miracle upon miracle. After my dad’s stroke, I grew up quickly. Oh, the growing pains -- and oh, the growing joys. As I grew through the experience, I learned about pain and God and what a friend we have in Him.
Sarah is inspired by community and creativity. She's a young professional in the communications, writing and nonprofit fields and can't get enough of it. Sarah appreciates a good cardigan, cherishes a great cup of coffee and gets a kick out of painting her nails red. She loves her fantastic husband, Mr. S., and living together in the Midwest. Connect with her on her blog, Inspiration-Driven Life, at Facebook and on Twitter
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