Not Deprived of Feeling, Yet Joyful

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

We made it through brain surgery!! For those of you looking for the quick update, here it is: Ethan had surgery on Wednesday and all went well, praise the Lord. He came home on Saturday, even earlier than expected. He is in the process of recovery, which is going great so far. He is taking walks around the block, intentional naps, and making noticeable daily progress.


We are truly grateful to God, grateful for the skill and kindness of the amazing medical team that cared for us- from the neurosurgeon to the anesthesia team, the nurses, the physical therapists, to the hospital staff who cleaned the bathrooms and delivered food, everyone was fantastic- we are grateful for friends, family, and community who have stood with us, prayed with us, supported us, and truly "entered in" this journey with us in a myriad of ways. The meals, packages on our porch, texts, calls, cards, messages, acts of service- all of it- have been overwhelming in the best way. Not only have we been loved on by people, but each act has truly given us a greater understanding of the love of God, and the transforming power of that love in our lives and in the world around us. Thank you feels too small, but nonetheless, we extend each of you a genuine "thank you" for walking alongside us on this journey and for "holding up our arms".


For those of you who would like the extended version, feel free to keep reading. :)


In the Waiting

After being sent home from the hospital after Ethan's initial diagnosis (see last post for more details on that), we entered into a strange period of "normal but not normal." Physically, Ethan was feeling great. They gave him some meds that brought down swelling and relieved all physical symptoms he'd been experiencing. He went out for runs, picked up with work (to transition some things over for the weeks to come), and in regards to family and home life things felt pretty much normal. Except they weren't. We knew that looming in the near future was brain surgery. God opened up doors for us to meet with an amazing neurosurgeon. We had an appointment with him on a Thursday, decided we felt good about having him be "the guy," and told his office we'd like to schedule the surgery. We expected it to be a few weeks out from the impression we'd gotten talking to him in his office. Ethan got off the phone with the "scheduler" later that afternoon and told me that the date was set for the following Wednesday, which was the earliest possible option. My stomach dropped, nervousness set in, and I didn't much feel like eating.


The next few days were ok. It was the weekend. We grilled burgers one night, laughed and talked around the table, the kids sang and danced to Disney songs, our eyes got a little "glisten-y" due to the sweetness of the evening together. The weekend seemed to pass in a flash, and when Sunday evening rolled around and I began to think about the week ahead, the pit in my stomach returned. This was really going to happen.


Monday was a day for "cleaning therapy." Sometimes when things feel out of control, it just feels good to clean your house. I put in some earbuds and turned on an audiobook. I was listening to Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, which is a biography of the life of Hudson Taylor (go figure)- a missionary to China in the 1800s. As I was cleaning, intentionally not thinking about "things", a quote jumped out at me. I rewound it, listened again, grabbed a journal, rewound, jotted part of it down, rewound again, and finished writing it in my journal. I read it, reread it, and let it soak in. The book was talking about a time when he was going through a difficult trial (go figure, I could relate). He wrote: "And though He (God) doesn't deprive me of feeling in my trial, He enables me to say, 'Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.' Now I am happy in my Savior's love, I can thank Him for all, even the most painful experiences of the past, and trust Him without fear for all that is to come." Bingo. What I could not articulate, this articulated perfectly. To walk through this situation that we were going through, this trial, to face this upcoming surgery...God did not take away the feeling in the trial. I still felt nervousness. I still had to quiet my mind- tell it "NO" when it wanted to start to go down the road of "what if's." I still felt all the normal feelings you might expect one to feel when one's spouse is about to go into a big surgery: uncertainty, fear, tension. But in the face of those feelings, I could still say, "Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!" (Habakkuk 3:18) I could tell that fear, that uncertainty, that nervousness to "get in its place". I could still choose to trust God, and while the feelings were not necessarily stripped away, they were put in submission to the perfect love of God. I could thank Him, even for this. I did not need to look to the future with fear, because I knew the One who held my future, my husband's future, my children's futures. He told me that His plan was good. And while I didn't yet know what that plan was, what that plan looked like, and wasn't guaranteed a specific outcome when it came to circumstances, I was reminded that God's character never changes. He is good, He is powerful, He is kind. His love is enough, His grace is sufficient, He has promised to always be with me. I could "trust Him without fear for all that is to come," because my Savior's love was certain, and there was nothing that could take me away from that love.


Banana Bread

One evening, in this period of waiting, I found myself flat-out tired. After cleaning the kitchen and before we started the process of getting kids to bed, I realized that I didn't have any plan for a quick breakfast for the kids before school the following day. I grabbed a recipe book. "I ought to make a loaf of bread for the morning, maybe some banana bread," I thought. But I was just tired. I didn't want to make another mess in the kitchen that I would have to clean. I decided I'd just go up to get the kids to bed and figure something out after I came back down.

While I was upstairs a text buzzed through on my watch. A friend let me know that she had just dropped something on my porch...you guessed it, a loaf of banana bread!

While the bread was awesome and it was so nice to have breakfast for the next morning, the banana bread was something so much bigger to me. It was a sweet whisper from God that He was my provider and He would see to our needs. Before I even realized I didn't have anything on hand for breakfast, before I even thought I should make some banana bread, before I even declared myself too tired to deal with it- God had seen to it. He prompted a friend hours ahead of time to bake the bread, to wrap it up, and to leave it on my porch at the exact moment of my need. This was the kind of God I was trusting. This was a God I could surrender to. A God who "goes before." A God who knows our needs and begins to intervene before we even recognize our need. This is how He works. Be it a loaf of banana bread, or the diagnosis and removal of a brain tumor we had no idea existed a few weeks before, or a Savior who died for me while I was yet a sinner (Romans 5:8)- a Savior who intervened on my behalf before I even knew my need- this is the God that He is, a God who goes before us, a God who provides.


Surgery Day

Sure enough, Wednesday inevitably arrived. We got to the hospital early and all went smooth. We were ushered into pre-op and surrounded by a flurry of activity. The assembly line in motion seemed to be a well-oiled machine, everyone getting prepped for their various surgeries that were about to take place. Ethan went in for one more MRI, and before we knew it we gave a quick kiss and he was off.

I was feeling peaceful, ready. My amazing Bible study ladies prayed with me, I talked with a dear friend on the phone, I found a cozy spot in the waiting room, and another friend- my support buddy- came to sit with me during the surgery. The nurse told me that he would call me every two hours to keep me updated. At 11:20 am I got the first call. All was going well. The morning passed peacefully and I enjoyed having a friend there with me to help me pass the time. Right at 1:20 pm, I got another call. The nurse told me that the surgeon was making it look easy and that all was good. "Perfect," I thought, "right on time. He must have a two-hour alarm set." Around 3 pm I started to check my watch. "Just a little while and I will get another update," I thought. I was doing well, but ready for that next update, the next assurance that all continued to go well. 3:20 rolled around. Then 3:25, 3:30. No update. 3:35, 3:40. No call. 3:45, 3:50. I began to get texts. "Is he out of surgery yet?" "Any update?" "Not yet," I replied, "still waiting."

It was hard to breathe. 4:00, 4:05. I am so thankful that my friend was with me. She prayed with me, held my hand, told me to breathe, assured me that everything would be ok. And yet my body began to shake, my hands, my legs. Every breath seemed an eternity. Why hadn't they called?! I repeatedly glanced at the door.

By this time I had seen multiple surgeons come out of surgery and walk over to talk to the person in the waiting room. They would find them by their seat and give them the good news, "all went well!", the person would breathe a sigh of relief and clear out shortly thereafter. I glanced again at the door. Maybe they forgot to call but the surgery was almost over, maybe the doctor would pop around the corner any minute and give me good news. Finally, someone at the front called my name, "Jennifer, for Ethan." "Yes! That's me."

"Come on back, the surgeon is going to come and talk to you in this room," they said.

The room? Why was he going to talk to me in a room?! I walked back to the room, taking a deep breath and whispering one final prayer for good news, for Ethan to be ok, for all to be well. And again, I waited. When the surgeon walked in I knew that everything was ok. He was casual, smiling. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. He explained that all had gone well, praise the Lord, and gave some details. I told him I was doing really well until that last hour. He looked at me with a strange look, as if to say "why were you possibly nervous?" He said he was within the time estimate he gave me. I told him that was true, but I had been waiting for a call from the nurse. He clearly had never been nervous and looked at me a little like I was crazy for thinking anything could be amiss.


I walked back out of the room and gave my friend- who had gone to refill waters at the time they called me back- the thumbs up. I shared the good news, told her all was well, and tried to stop the shaking in my hands and legs. "Thank you for staying with me, you really carried me through that last hour," I told her. "It'll be about an hour until he is out of recovery and then I will be able to see him in neuro ICU so it is fine if you want to go ahead and go." She told me she was going to stay with me. She also told me that she was pretty sure I still needed to sit down and breathe because my fingers were blue. :) Sure enough, they were. For the next hour and until I left later that night, my friend stayed with me. I regained some color, stopped shaking, and gave thanks to God for a successful surgery. I finally saw my husband later that evening, feeling incredibly grateful. After a short visit, I went home to see the kids after a long and intense day.


I learned a few lessons that day. The beauty of friendship and how it can be a picture of Jesus’ love. That He stays with us and steadies us, He holds our hands, comforts and carries us through our hour of need. I learned what it looks like to support others and stand by them. I experienced the supernatural peace you could feel in hard times. And that even in the midst of intense moments of uncertainty with legs shaking and breathing hindered, you can still trust God in the midst of it- these do not contradict one another. I remembered again the quote by Hudson Taylor..."And though He (God) doesn't deprive me of feeling in my trial, He enables me to say, 'Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." He did not by any means take away the feelings of that day, but even still, even greater, right in the midst of it all, there was joy in the God of my salvation.


Recovery

We spent the next few days with Ethan in the hospital and me commuting back and forth. I am happy to report that his recovery is going great so far. We truly give thanks to God for this. He came home on Saturday, a very happy reunion for all! We know that this road of recovery will still be a long one. His brain has been through a major ordeal and needs lots of rest and intentional time to "master the art of doing nothing." He is regaining fine motor control on his left side, and while they expect a full recovery, this will still be a process and will take time. There will still be more scans. At some point, doctors will look at a removal of a second tumor. While I wish I can say that since we've been through it once before it will be easy, I'm sure it will still be a little nerve-wracking whenever that day comes.


So what is the takeaway? That we are now done and can check off the trials box once and for all? That prayer always results in a happy outcome? That everything from here on out will be smooth sailing? That we have once and for all learned to trust God- never to struggle again? That we got the happy ending to the story?


We all know this is not the case. We will continue to face “things” in our life, as will you. It may not always be brain surgery, but there are always things where we need to continue to learn to trust... to put our hope in Jesus, to find our rest in Him, to have Him be our expectation, to walk in faith, to choose to lean into Jesus. He knows our story, He wrote it- and it is a good one.

These last few weeks for us have been crazy, to say the least. And yet through them, I am learning about "layers of trust." Going through a trial, facing something out of your control, and choosing to say, "Yes Lord, I will trust you.” And then another layer is peeled back.

"So you trust me with that, will you trust me now with this?" God asks.

With each consecutive layer of trust, I come closer to the place of surrender.


In my journal during the midst of this journey, I wrote down the following words, big and bold, in the middle of the page: The position of surrender is the position of strength. Surrender is a scary thing. "If I totally surrender, who knows what God will do?" we think. "He might take away my loved ones, my money, send me somewhere I don't want to go, make me do something I don't want to do." These are often the thoughts that come in on the heels of the prayer of surrender. But we must remember, I must remember, that the God we are surrendering all to is also the God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. (James1:17) In this position of surrender, we find strength. Not a strength that comes from control- for if I have learned anything from this whirlwind of the last few weeks, it is that we have very little actual control over anything. Not a strength that comes from ourselves. But a strength in surrendering to a God who IS in control. A God who is not only all-powerful but also entirely good. Not only all-knowing but also all-caring. A God who is love itself. A God who gives us banana bread, just to remind us that He loves us and is taking care of us.


We CAN surrender to Him. In each new thing we face, in each new trial we encounter, in each new layer of trust we peel back, we can say, "Yes Lord, even in this I will trust you." It is here that we will discover that "the joy of the Lord is [our] strength" (Neh 8:10). It is here that we will find true freedom. It is here, in the place of surrender, that we can rest, forever safe, in His perfect love. And it is here that we too can learn to say, "Now I am happy in my Savior's love, I can thank Him for all, even the most painful experiences of the past, and trust Him without fear for all that is to come."








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