I was recently enrolled in my last class before graduating with a bachelor’s degree. It was an accelerated class that crammed an entire semester of work into an 8 week timeframe. I was typically spending 30 to 40 hours a week reading class materials, writing papers, participating in forums, and taking tests. It was a huge challenge but I loved it (plus, I had a tutor!). Then in the seventh week of class, it happened.
I aspirated on a little bit of water and had to be rushed to the hospital emergency department (ED). Aspirations are common with me because I have something called esophageal dismobility. Most people with this condition might aspirate often but then are able to cough up whatever went down “the wrong pipe.” Not me, unfortunately.
When my C3/C4/C5 cervical spine was completely severed (see “My Story” for the entire journey), all my muscles atrophied – basically melted away – within a week. That included the muscles around my diaphragm that allow me the strength to cough, clear my throat, blow my nose, and spit up – I know, gross. Since I can’t cough, when I aspirate the food is just stuck and it can block me from breathing. I’ve had aspiration pneumonia at least 4 or more times since becoming a quadriplegic 7 years ago.
When I woke up in the ED, the first thing I said to my sister-in-law was, “what about my class!” Everything was going right on schedule and I knew I was going to finish right on time with the perfect grade, and now THIS??!!
James 4: 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Once again, the upheaval in my life was causing me feelings of angst and despair. Was the professor going to flunk me? If not, would I be able to finish all my assignments before the deadline that was only a week away? Would I end up with a B or C in the class? Believe me when I say any grade in the class less than an A caused me feelings of anger because I’m such a perfectionist.
Psalm 13: 1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
I arrived at the hospital on a Tuesday morning because I aspirated, but I also tested positive for influenza A. By Thursday I was told I was symptom-free and could return to my facility. Unfortunately, my facility would not allow me to come back until 7 days had passed. I was well from the ailments that brought me to the ED, and yet had to spend 5 extra days lying in a hospital bed when I was not sick. You can imagine all the hopeless thoughts I wrestled with during those long 5 days.
Thankfully, after some fervent prayer and discipling from other spiritual women who mentor me, I came to the realization that all rocky roads in my life are to make me more Christlike; to make me more holy. This includes times of sickness while lying in an ICU bed, challenging classes when I’m sure I’m going to fail, difficult relationships with caregivers or friends, and prolonged hospital stays when I’m not even sick. God uses everything in my life to draw me closer to him and strengthen my trust in him.
Romans 8: 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God is for me in my life despite any forces that I feel are against me! I have to trust him – knowing everything that happens during my journey on this earth is for my good (Romans 8:28). He already gave up his son for me and will graciously continue to give me all things, I need only build my spiritual muscles so I can persevere in this broken body to the end of my life. Only God, who created me, knows what is best for me. I was able to say with confidence, “God I don’t know exactly why this is happening, but thank you for whatever you are teaching me.”
Romans 8: 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ our Lord.
I finally felt at peace and trusted there was a purpose for my extended stay despite the disruption to my carefully laid plans. I was able to share with a couple of the doctors and several of the nurses about what I had learned in my walk with God during the week. Some of them listened intently with open hearts, and others got uncomfortable and quickly scooted out of the room. Either way, I was grateful for the opportunity to bring good news to those who needed to hear it.
Psalm 28: 7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
I’m happy to say I received an A in the class and am a new graduate of North Carolina Wesleyan College.