BEAUTY WRAPPED IN PAIN AND BROKENNESS

Paul and Carol

Paul and Carol

The moment was almost surreal as I listened to the doctor’s words: “There are risks with this surgery…your husband can die, and we have to inform you of the possibility of brain damage.”  I remained calm on the outside while the words swirled around my brain and distressed me deeply.  “Please, please, please God, don’t let Paul die,” was a prayer I prayed many times over the long ten-month period as we awaited surgery in Sheffield Northern General Hospital.

There are times in our lives when we are confronted with harsh realities.  We wish we could run or hide from them, but we know we can’t.  The doctor’s had discovered that Paul had a 5.6cm wide aneurism on his rising aorta - the challenge regarding his health and well-being, was that the aneurism went passed the junction to the carotid artery to his brain, which was why there was a high risk of brain damage. 

I remember driving Paul to the hospital on the day before his surgery.  Our children, Anna and Jay, had flown in from the States to support us during the ordeal.  For a fleeting moment, the thought crossed my mind, “Is this the last time the three of us will drive with Paul?”  But I put that thought aside very quickly and tried to concentrate on getting through the day.

The day of surgery arrived.  Fifteen hours was designated for Paul’s surgery.  The surgeon said to us, “This is a big one…in fact, after a heart transplant this is the most invasive surgery we do.”  I have to say his words did not comfort me.  But, what distressed me most was when he told us that they placed Paul in ice and then, ‘Turned him off,’ while they replaced his aortic valve and cut out the aneurism replacing it with a whole new aortic piece.   I remember Paul saying, “What do you mean by 'turn me off’?”  The doctor looked at him and said, “Well, let me see…we…um.”  Paul, realizing the surgeon was struggling to find the right words said, “You mean, you kill me!”   The doctor smiled back at Paul and answered, “That is one way of putting it!”  They were both being slightly flippant and jovial at that point, but personally I did not see the humor in the moment. 

I was up most of the night before surgery and went across to Paul’s room very early the next morning.  He was sleepy from the tablets he had been given the night before, but he smiled when he saw me and we held hands and prayed.  He asked God to give the kids and me strength, and I asked Jesus to guide the surgeon’s hands.   As they wheeled Paul to theater, I walked alongside him and then kissed him goodbye at the door.  Never have I felt so alone, scared, vulnerable and broken!

My brother Geoff and his wife Karen were also there to support us through this time.  We all sat and waited hour after excruciating hour.  After eight-hours of agony, we got a call informing us that surgery was over and I could go and see Paul.  I raced up to ICU with my brother by my side.  But, when I got to the door I could not enter ICU.  I was frozen…I felt sick and nauseous.  Suddenly waves of memory rolled over me as I recalled the trauma of my son’s accident some five years before.  You can read a portion of that story in my bloghttp://www.carolaalexander.com/new-blog/2014/6/25/echoes-of-joy-emanate-from-our-lament-1st-july-2014 Echoes of Joy in our Lament.  I gathered myself together and walked in to see Paul.  I knew I had to be strong!

He was whiter than I had ever seen him before.  In a moment of stupidity, I asked the nurse if she had put baby powder on Paul’s face.  She smiled and said, “Do you honestly think we have nothing better to do than rub powder on our patient’s faces?”  I felt really silly!

I sat beside Paul’s bed and tears rolled down my cheeks…I couldn’t stop crying.  He looked so weak and sick, lying there with a breathing tube down his throat.  The nurse looked at me and said, “You have never been in an ICU ward before have you?”  I replied that I had sat in Trauma ICU for 28 days with my son, but I was not alone because Paul and I went through that crisis together.  I was going through this crisis in a different way!  My children were an incredible support and comfort to me, but there is nothing as lonely as journeying through a crisis without your spouse.

Eight days later, and after some complications, Paul was released from the hospital.  He was weak, frail, scarred and vulnerable.  But, he was alive!  I saw beauty in a way I had not seen it before.  Beneath the ugly, painful scar was beauty.  Paul was alive.  His body would bear scars forever, but beneath the wrapping of pain and brokenness was beauty.  The beauty of another day to live with him, the chance to see another sunrise together and enjoy the world God had created.  We could dream of grandchildren and many more years to live together and serve Jesus.  What an incredible gift, rare beauty!

That was seven years ago today!  I don’t take life for granted. Every single day is a gift for me - an amazing gift to live with the man I have loved since I was sixteen years old.  I never get tired of saying, "Thank you!" to Jesus for sparing his life.

We can look for beauty in all the wrong places.  But sometimes beauty can surprise us because it is wrapped in a way that we could never anticipate.  We love beautiful wrappings, but many times what lies beneath the wrapping is not beautiful at all. However, beneath the sometimes-ugly layers of pain and brokenness you discover pure, unadulterated beauty!

As human beings we can sometimes be fickle.  I always think how sad it is when a person gets tired of their spouse because their body is no longer youthful and their face is lined with age.  They discard their spouse in search of youth, beauty and excitement.  If only they would peel back the layers, the wrapping, and discover the depth of beauty in that aged body - the person that stood with them through the agonizing, challenging and joyful years of life.  But they look for beauty elsewhere, and often find that beneath the beautiful new wrapping is something significantly inferior in worth to what they had before!

Paul, Ava and Tylan

Paul, Ava and Tylan

Every day is a surprise for the two of us.  I live with constant gratitude that God gave me my son and my husband back. Paul lives with a deep sense of joy that he is alive and can see his children and grandchildren grow into incredible human beings. Paul and Jay both bear scars, but they are beautiful to me.  

Paul and our precious Ava!

Paul and our precious Ava!

I now see beauty in places I never did before.  I find beauty in some of the oldest and most weathered faces! I see the immense beauty in my family, with all their scars and imperfections they are simply beautiful.  And every day, snow, rain or sunshine, I rise and say, “Another beautiful day!  Thank you Jesus!"

My parents and our grandchildren!

My parents and our grandchildren!

Our children, grandchildren and my parents.

Our children, grandchildren and my parents.

ECHOES OF JOY FROM OUR LAMENT!

July 1st 2014.

There are some days where every miniscule detail that occurred is embedded in your memory never to be erased or washed away.  Neither should they be because each event, whether good, bad, happy or sad is part of us.  Our past is an intrinsic piece of our story, and the way in which we manage each situation determines the remainder of our story. 

 

Memory is a gift!  But sometimes that gift is wrapped in sorrow. And yet, even in the midst of that sorrow and lament there can be, and should be, echoes of joy.   July 1st, 2002 was one such day for me.

 

It began as an ordinary day.   The air was heavy with heat while the skies were a soft ink blue filled with chirping birds despite the intensity of the sun.  All the vibrancy in the air seemed to spur me on in the accomplishment of the numerous daily chores to be completed in an inordinately short space of time.  This day, however, would end very differently to how I anticipated, and would forever change my life.  No, let me re-phrase that!   It would turn our family's lives upside down and change the way we lived our lives.

 

I had returned from the store and was unpacking my groceries when the ringing of our doorbell startled me.  I walked casually to the door, opened it and saw a big, burly police officer at my door.  “What on earth does he want?” I thought.  “Hmm… yes, I know, money for the police force,” I quickly decided, as I smiled and greeted him.  “Are you Mrs. Alexander?” he said.  “Yes” I replied courteously, wondering how long it would take before he asked me to empty my wallet for a good cause.  “I have some terrible news for you!” he said nervously.  “Well,” I thought, “I don’t want your terrible news, so buzz off and take it with you!” But, even as I was thinking those thoughts, the words were spilling from his mouth, and as quickly, fear was rushing through my body like wildfire. His voice seemed distant; he was there, but somehow he was far away! “Your son has been involved in a very tragic accident.”  Fear settled in my belly; intense, burning and excruciating agony.  In the midst of untold fear, I knew my God was there, with me at that moment, I could sense Him! 

 

Jay's car!

Jay's car!

We arrived at Carolina’s Medical Center approximately an hour and a half after the horrendous car accident that left Jason’s car pulverized and unrecognizable.  He had been airlifted to hospital and we were told to, “Wait!”  And, wait we did.  We waited, what for, we did not know.   I am not sure how long we waited, but waiting for me, was far better than death, so wait I did... all day if it would delay the inevitable…telling me my son had not made it.  Those were words I simply could not comprehend hearing of my twenty two year old, blonde, blue-eyed son…so I would wait!

 

Eventually, three grim faced doctors appeared and ushered Paul and me into a private room with our Pastor.  By now, Anna had arrived and the desperation and pain etched on her face made me want to protect her from the horror confronting us.  I couldn’t!  This was our reality; we could not run from it, hide from it or will it away.  We had to face it!  “We are going to be honest with you,” the doctors said. They were trying to be compassionate, but they could not hide the dismal truth. “People with your son’s injuries do not survive,” and they began to list some of his injuries.  Those were harsh words indeed, lacerating our hearts to pieces. Paul had to walk out the room because he suddenly felt drained, emptied out and scared to death. He stood over the toilet bowl and retched.  After splashing cold water in his face and calling out to God, he walked back into the tiny room and we were informed that we should go up to the fifth floor and wait there for further news.

 

Our long dark night was just beginning. 

 

As we walked out of the room, our Anna; gracious, beautiful girl, put her hands gently on my shoulders - tears coursing down her cheeks, she didn’t care…her brother was on the fifth floor fighting the greatest battle of his life, “Mommy, my brother is NOT going to die, he is going to walk out of this hospital,” she sobbed. The pain and fear did not diminish or subside, but a quiet and deep hope filtered through my being and would sustain me through the greatest test of my life.

 

“Your son has a ruptured aorta, his lungs, liver and spleen have all ruptured and a rib has penetrated the left ventricle of his heart.  Please sign these forms as we need to take him to surgery immediately,” Dr. Mark Reames, the thoracic cardiologist told us.  I was glad that Paul was with me; his strength, his courage and his faith were my anchors.  I was dazed, but as I looked around I saw people everywhere!  They were lining the corridors, sitting in the waiting room, standing around us…”Where were all these people from?” I only recognized a few faces.  We had only lived in Concord, North Carolina for five months, and yet, the hospital was filled with people from our church and our community - this beautiful, incredible, life-giving community, the Body of Christ. 

 

Jay was in surgery for over seven hours that night.  When we were given permission to go and see him, we could hardly recognize our own son laying there.  He was on life support, there were drains in his body and needles everywhere. Desperate!  I had never felt such heartache, vulnerability and spiritual nakedness.   

 

Paul, Carol and our precious Jay 5 weeks after the accident - we are smiling with joy because he is alive! 

Paul, Carol and our precious Jay 5 weeks after the accident - we are smiling with joy because he is alive! 

Jay was in ICU for 28 days and in an induced coma for 21 of those days.  They were agonizing days to say the least.  The full story will be told in my book Wild Hope.  Suffice it to say, those days were filled with every possible emotion.  Despair. Hope. Pain. Agony. Hope.  It was a roller coaster experience of different emotions.  One moment we were elated at the smallest sign of progress, the next one we were spiraling downwards into the tunnel of despondency.

 

We emerged from our dark night into the brightness of a new and beautiful day. Anna’s prophecy, “My brother will walk out of this hospital,” came to pass. Jay was alive! He came through his ordeal, and we did too…not without some horrific moments.  One of those moments, was when the doctors from the Trauma Intensive Care ward called our Pastor to tell him to come to the hospital on the third day because they were losing Jay.  More of those phone calls followed.  Dread filled days!

 

That was twelve years ago today! And so I must pause...remember that day, and above all else say, 'Thank you!" to a gracious God who miraculously gave our son back to us.  

Are we still tender on the inside?  Yes, I think we will always live with the rawness and depth of that experience. We came so close to the death of our precious son; we were touching its edges as it hovered close to his door hour after hour, day after day.  Sadness? Yes, I feel sad and heavy-hearted, for those who did not have the outcome we did.  My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones.

 

 What did we as a family take from this experience?  How has this ordeal changed our lives?  Well, joy and thankfulness are close companions that flow through our family DNA.  Our lives have changed because we are acutely aware that life is short.  It is a gift!  Our days are numbered, and truth be told, none of us know when our time will come to breathe our final breath. 

Jay today... with his beloved "Parnie" - Grandfather!

Jay today... with his beloved "Parnie" - Grandfather!

 

And so it is, that as a family we value each moment we have with each other.  We don’t think you can ever say, “I love you!” enough.  Spending reckless moments of time with each other, drinking copious amounts of tea, and belly laughing over meals, is part of our joyous response to our memory of lament.  Each and every precious moment with each other is a gift so extraordinary and beautiful that somehow, there will always be echoes of joy emanating from a memory of deep and abiding lament!

 

In the midst of it all, our amazing God upheld us through each moment.  We felt His tender love and care expressed through His people.  His sorrow was evidenced through so many individuals who traveled from afar to weep and pray with us.  Thousands of friends around the world joined us in our journey of lament and upheld us with their prayers.

 

And now we live with the echoes of eternity and the realization that when life on earth is over, it will just be beginning.  Therein is the fusion of lament and joy all wrapped up in the promise of Hope after life!  These are the echoes of joy that emanate from our lament.

Happy times! Anna, Carol, Ava, Paul holding Tylan and Jay.

Happy times! Anna, Carol, Ava, Paul holding Tylan and Jay.

Family Christmas 2013 - joy filled!

Family Christmas 2013 - joy filled!

Jay and Paul 2013.

Jay and Paul 2013.

THE RECKLESS LOVE OF A FATHER!

I am so thankful for my dad.  Throughout my life, I have encountered people bereft of a dad, and it is evident that they have missed out on a significant and unique relationship.  My children are extremely thankful for a godly father who has guided them throughout their lives - they wouldn't be who they are today without their dad.

There is a well-known narrative in the Bible that tells of a father and his unconditional love for his son, it is found in Luke 15: 11-32 and is the story of the prodigal son. The German theologian, Karl Barth said that to understand this parable in its fullness, we have to read the journey of the prodigal son alongside the journey of the Son of God.  So lets see what the narrative looks like from that perspective.

Although the prodigal son was anxious to leave his father’s house, God’s Son did not hold onto his right to stay with his Father, but humbled himself and became a servant (Philippians 2:5-8.)  Like the prodigal son, Jesus traveled into a ‘far country’ of sin and rebellion. But, there is a twist in this story because Jesus went further and crossed all the dividing lines into this ‘far country’ of sin and of death, not for Himself but for humanity.  The Son of God, unlike the prodigal son, was an obedient Son, and when He returned to His Father, he returned with His hands full, not empty and wasted like the prodigal son.  When Jesus went back to God, he took with him redeemed humanity.  The prodigal son spent everything he had on himself in reckless living– Jesus gave everything he had for others in reckless love. 

This story reveals, in a touching and beautiful way, the mission heart of God.  He was so radical in His love for the world, that He willingly sent His Son into a depraved and wicked ‘far country’ to bring back the lost and hopeless to Him.   In other words, God is, in Tim Keller’s words, a “Prodigal God.”  Not only does this Prodigal God send His Son on a reckless mission into a forlorn world, but also opens His arms with unconditional love to receive the broken, hopeless and lost back into His fold.  This is a Prodigal God.  What unfathomable love - breathtaking in its capacity!

So what does this story mean for you as an individual?

 1.     God is a loving God.  His love is reckless, because He would do anything to see you live in freedom and peace. To put it simply, God loves you just as you are.

2.     God is a missional God.  In fact, He was so desirous to see you redeemed that He willingly sent His only Son into a harsh, cruel world to die on the cross for you.

3.     God is an incarnational God. He came to where you are.  He moved into your neighborhood with His redeeming message.  This is the wonderful news of the gospel, which still applies today.  God comes to where you are and meets you in your space.  Jesus came in the first Century, but His message is still applicable in the 21st century.  The Son of God took a journey right into your lived existence.

What are we to do with this story?

1.     God wants us to carry His message to a hurting world.  This profound and reckless love is a love worth sharing.  Simply put, God wants us to take this story to the places and spaces where people live right now.  This message is as applicable in Europe as it is in Asia or anywhere in Africa or America.   Jesus can, and does meet people in their particular and unique context. 

2.     God wants us to reveal His love to a hurting world.  So often the Christian story is portrayed as a message of judgment.  Many times this narrative becomes a list of what we can and cannot do.  In truth, this story reveals a God, who is so in love with humanity that He shows it by sending His only Son on a reckless journey, into a 'far country' to be scorned, humiliated and hung on a cross - and all of this reckless love for humanity.   He forgives and accepts corrupted, sinful humans unquestioningly and with open arms.  God wants us now, like Jesus did,  to enter into the center of people’s lived existences and show them His love.

3.     God goes with us into this hurting world.  God asks us to take His message to a hurting world by letting Jesus live in and through us.   We do not do this on our own, Jesus goes with us and gives us the courage to go into the ‘far country’ with a message that is reckless, redeeming and relentless in its passion for lost men and women. 

This is a beautiful love story!  It won my heart, and my desire is that this magnificent narrative will infiltrate our world through faithful Christ followers, so that God’s love will be manifest to hurting humanity. 

I am and always will be,

Recklessly abandoned, ruthlessly committed and in relentless pursuit of Jesus,

Carol

Paul and our son Jay!                                                                                                                 

Paul and our son Jay!                                                                                                                 

FORGIVENESS - 4 STEPS TO HEALING INNER WOUNDS

4 SIMPLE STEPS TO HEALING INNER WOUNDS

 

Pain is awful – any kind!  But, I think emotional pain is the worst kind of agony.  When someone has intentionally hurt you the daily torture from that emotional wound can be unbearable. Adding to the pain and confusion are the questions that swirl around in your head.   How could God allow this?  Why are people so cruel?  What did I do wrong?


There is a pathway to healing and it can be found in following some simple steps.  Here are some decisions you can make towards the journey of healing:


·      Confront your memories

Memory is a gift from God.  But, the ability to deal with hurtful memories is a choice.  You can bury painful memories in the far recesses of your mind and hope they never resurface.  Or, you can let that memory fester inside of you making you angry and bitter.  Alternatively, you can confront those hurtful memories, deal with the pain and move on.  The first decision you have to make is to confront the memory, and that can hurt!  But it is the first and necessary step in the journey to healing.

·      Remember rightly

This is a phrase coined by theologian Miroslav Volf.   He encourages victims of abuse to attempt to walk in the shoes of their perpetrator.  Sometimes our memory distorts our image of the person who hurt us, and with time, they become more evil than they were.  That is why it is a conscious discipline to remember rightly.  Pause and ask yourself a few questions:  Was the person who harmed you hurting?  What is their story?  Was the incident as awful as you recollect?  Can you try to look through God’s lens and gain His perspective on the perpetrator and the event?

·      Forgive because you are forgiven

Forgiveness is foundational to the Gospel message.  Without the forgiveness of Jesus, I would be a hopeless soul.  But, His amazing love and acceptance of me, despite my many sins, has bought me my freedom.  I am forgiven!  That is one of the most powerful and freeing truths in the Bible.  You can never forgive in your own strength.  No one has that capacity.  You have to look into the bleeding wounds of your Savior and ask Him for His love, His ability and His compassion.  Then allow grace to flood your soul and forgive the person who has harmed you.

·      Walk in forgiveness

Do not expect to feel all fuzzy and warm once you have made the decision to forgive.  And do not anticipate that you will suddenly be filled with love for the person that hurt you.  Naïveté is not helpful at this point.  The journey is not over!  There could still be a battle in your mind.  At night, you might remember the painful words, the tongue-lashing and abuse, and you may be tempted to think that you have not truly forgiven.  You have.  You made the choice to forgive.  Now, you must make a daily, and perhaps at times, an hourly decision to walk in that forgiveness.


Ava and Tylan

Ava and Tylan

I never want to diminish or undermine the agony of emotional abuse and pain.  However, I do believe in the amazing power of forgiveness.  As you appropriate God’s forgiveness, His healing will follow, the open wound will begin to heal and freedom will follow.  Let go of the past and walk deliberately into your future – it is a beautiful place because Jesus is there!

I am and always will be,

Recklessly abandoned, ruthlessly committed and in relentless pursuit of Jesus,

Carol

 

 

 


 

RUN BABY RUN!

 

I love reading!  There is nothing quite as enjoyable as a good book and a cup of tea.  Try it…you’ll be won over, I can guarantee! 

 

Of all the books I have read in my lifetime, and there have been many, none has challenged or touched my heart more than the Bible.  I cannot explain the reason for this, other than to say that God’s Word is powerful and authoritative.  Because it is such an inspiring book, I read it on a daily basis.   So let me share a portion from the 12th chapter of the book of Hebrews that has challenged me.

 

The writer uses a foot race as a type of analogy for us running the Christian race.  He says: “…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith…” There are a number of principles in this text that can help us in our Christian journey - let me share them with you:

1.     Run your race

I love the fact that there is a ‘race marked out for’  each one of us. Think of it, Jesus has already planned and designed our individual race.  That should give us confidence – if He has ‘marked out’ our individual race then we can trust Him to see us through to the finishing line.   One of the keys for us is to keep focused on our race.  The other important key is to ensure that we never give in to the temptation of competing and comparing with other people.  Run your race because that is the only one you can succeed at.  Don’t look at other people and think: “Their race is easy, their challenges are few.”  Truth be told, we do not run in their shoes so we have no idea about their struggles and challenges.  God has marked out your race and that is the one that concerns you. Never aspire to run someone else’s race; you were made to run your race.

2.     Keep your eye on the goal

Any runner knows the importance of focus.  If you are running to win, you need to keep your eye on the goal.  Distractions can hinder your race.  If you keep looking around to see where your competitors are, you can diminish your effectiveness and eventually even lose your race. 

3.     Finish your race

When all the conditions are perfect, it is easy to stay on course and to keep our focus and energy levels up.  However, when the heat is on, and the track is an upward slope then discouragement and weariness can set in.  For these reasons, the writer encourages us to keep our eyes on Jesus.  You begin your race with your eyes fixed firmly on the goal, but when the going gets tough, it is important to keep your focus, look intently ahead, and finish the race.

 

Our children, Anna and Jason, loved Sports Days at their school.  The energy was high, the atmosphere was charged and there was an air of expectancy and anticipation at the outcome of the day.  Most of these events always included a Father’s race.  My husband Paul was a rower and he was extremely athletic and fit.  Of course, Jason being exceptionally proud of his dad asked him to enter the race.  Paul was not a very good runner, but he didn’t want to disappoint Jay so he entered the race.  As he lined up to run the race, our family began to feel their confidence rise.  Some of the dad’s were overweight and many of them were significantly older than Paul…well they certainly looked older!  Our optimism loomed large. 

 

The moment arrived!  The dad’s were ready, eager and waiting expectantly behind the starting line.  A gunshot pierced the air and the men were off; their ego’s hanging tenaciously on the outcome of this event.  Slowly, little by little, our optimism waned as we saw Paul get further and further behind.  We were disappointed when he came in second last.  How could this be?  He was a star athlete, a rower, and the father of Jason Alexander!   But he simply wasn’t a runner.  Well, not a very good one!  We felt sorry for Jay because we knew he wanted his dad to do well.  However, we had not realized the extent of Jason’s optimism and faith in his dad.  When he got home that night his granddad asked him: “Jay, how did your dad do in the race?”  Jay looked at his granddad and with a smile spread across his face he exclaimed triumphantly: “My dad beat the last guy.”  That story still makes me chuckle today.  No person and nothing could abate Jay’s confidence in his dad.  His dad didn’t win, but he did finish the race.   And more importantly, he beat the last guy. His dad was a winner!

 

What really matters is that you do your best and you finish your race.  Keep running my friend; the result will be worth every minute of it!

 

I am and always will be,

Recklessly abandoned, ruthlessly committed and in relentless pursuit of Jesus

 

Carol

Ava running enthusiastically!                                                                                                                       

Ava running enthusiastically!