June 27th. It had always been just another date on the calendar, another 24 hours to fill with life's responsibilities...just another day...that is, until this one. Yes, this one was different. My father had felt ill for a couple of days. He had been sick like this before, but we shared his assumption that it was related to the construction accident he had experienced more than two decades earlier...that pesky rib was out of place again, causing nausea and dizziness. A trip to the chiropractor would fix the problem...or so we thought.
The next few hours remain a blur in my memory: a trip to the chiropractor turned into a hasty drive to the hospital, which began a three-month-long stay and a fight to survive...it wasn't just the rib...my dad could've died...and almost did.
I can still feel the terror that ran through my 18-year-old body as I stood at the door of the hospital room. I stared at my father's sedated figure and wondered, "How?! Why?! This can't be happening!" I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't make myself accept it. I couldn't take it in. I was frozen - frozen to all things living. I turned a cold shoulder to God, to life. And I allowed myself to die that day. Hope was gone, and I knew it. I couldn't love anymore. I couldn't embrace. No. Not when so much was being stripped and taken from me.
Even in the midst of my pain, God chose to work a miracle: my father survived, and we brought him home in October - 98 days after that harrowing drive to the emergency room. But, for me, it was not enough. While I was thankful that my father was alive, anger still bore deep. My "whys" had only increased. Even as his health returned and the months went by, June 27th signified a death of sorts: my death. I was no longer a whole person...and I knew it. I was still frozen by that hospital door. Emotionally, I had never left. There was no joy in my life. No gratitude. No openness. Only painful wounds - wounds that couldn't seem to heal. Oh...what feelings hid behind my smile. So often, I wanted to say to others, "If you only knew..." And yet, I didn't want them to. It was a harsh contradiction. Two sides to a broken self.
All the while, I thought that, by keeping such despair and hopelessness to myself, I was fooling everyone else...and fooling God. Time, and God Himself, would later show me that I was the one who had been fooled. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galations 6:7). I would discover eventually that I sowed seeds of bitterness, unthankfulness, and resentment for years prior to that one day in June. The events of June 27th merely exposed them. And then came the reaping: the long nights of tears and loneliness, the distancing from relationships with others, the constant weight of failure, unforgiveness, and pain. There was no light. Only darkness...one that would not leave me until I became open to Grace.
Somewhere along the way, a change occurred. It was not immediate, nor was it strongly impressed. It just grew slowly into a deeper and deeper realization: I had to move forward with my life. I couldn't be this way forever. I had to find a way to face that person who was left standing at the door of the hospital room.
The process of working through the effects of the seeds I had sown were anything but pleasant. It took great courage, coupled with humility, to admit to myself, to others, and to God that I had been so wrong. The truth about my angry, bitter heart was, at times, almost too much to bear. And yet, with each revelation, with each confession of my foolishness, a bit of hope returned. There might still be some light that could penetrate my darkness. Perhaps I could learn to live again...
Even more time passed, and I continued to grow through the pain. Slowly, I began to let go of my hurts and allow the Savior to touch and bind up the wounds in my soul. Ever so slightly, life began to raise the dead. I started to move past the hospital door and on to healing. But one thing was still missing: joy.
True joy didn't reach me until I put something else into practice: thankfulness. I thought I understood what appreciation was, but I realized that I knew little of what it meant to thank the Giver Himself! In little things as well as big, I had to learn to notice His gifts of grace - to acknowledge the numerous blessings around me and, in so doing, to acknowledge Him. Him who loves me unconditionally. Him who gave everything that was His to redeem and restore what was so broken in my life. He promised to grant life after death - He was waiting to do the same in me. I only had to open my heart and watch the miracle begin. It was a startling revelation: thankfulness brings joy!
How could I have missed this for so long?! I was blind to the one thing that could have cured the spirit of anger and bitterness within. I had rejected Grace, been closed to God, walked away from His love and, only now, saw my need for these things.
Thankfulness has since become a way of life for me. I can't say that I have mastered it by any means, but it has changed who I am. Joy has returned. For the first time in years, I feel like I am no longer standing at that door. I am journeying towards Life. I am rejoicing in the love I have been given. I am discovering Him.
June 27th. It is no longer my "death date." While I cannot deny the painful path that day began for me, I can look back and be grateful. I can thank - because that day is the beginning of how I learned to live again.