Thursday morning was a bummer, but Thursday afternoon was awesome. JP, one of the lacrosse dads who plays an essential role in administration for the Oak Park Boys Lacrosse Program, came by with a car load of the seniors from this year’s team. All but one of the guys was interested in checking out my new scar. I don’t blame my squeamish defenseman for passing. I saw a picture of the scar once and plan on never viewing it again. Yuck. We had a great visit and the boys took turns reading me verses from Psalm 19. We had a great conversation about the difference between hidden faults and presumptuous sins. And we reflected on the often forgotten truth that not only do rules, God’s or the NFHS High School Boy’s Lacrosse Rules, warn us against those things that will cause failure, but it is also the case that “in keeping them is great reward.” Just seeing those guys brightened my day.
Thursdays at the Bjerkaas house are usually an incredibly fun but hectic affair. Kerrie and I have an open house every Thursday night – we call it Taco Thursday. We put out a spread of beef, chicken, and fish tacos, together with all sorts of taco condiments – plus beans and rice. And on any given Thursday night, anywhere from ten to forty kids come by – sometimes their parents too! By Oak Park standards, we have a biggish back yard with a mature Mountain Ash and a large play structure I built for the kids ten years ago. It is awesome to see high school kids just being kids. Hanging out in the tree or on the swings. Sometimes a group of them are studying around the picnic table or playing Mario Cart or Jack Box on the big screen in our living room. There are lacrosse players, kids from the band, kids who just like to hang out… It is our favorite night of the week here. So when I am too banged up to open our home it sort of adds to the sense of loss.
On Friday night I was sleeping on the couch and only my middle son Timmy was home with me. He saw what he described as a “sports car” pull into the driveway and a big guy carrying a large stick come up to the door. Timmy didn’t recognize the guy so he didn’t open the door. It had been one of my lax guys who is a regular suspect on Taco Thursdays – Marcus. The stick was a rolled up 3’ x 8’ banner that the kids had made at school that day. And it was full of well wishes and greetings from current and past Oak Park kids – and there were notes from our Taco Thursday crew. The banner really made my day – it currently has pride of place on the bedroom wall, so I can regularly read the admonition “GET WELL SOON!” Kerrie thinks it’s funny that all the girls lacrosse players call me “Coach Bob” but all the guys just call me “Bobby.” I had never noticed.
The days following Dad and Mom Williams’ departure were mentally and emotionally tough. Not only did my swallow and speech seem to resist any improvement, but as I was healing, different aches and pains would actually seem to get worse. Laying on the couch during the day, drifting in and out of wakefulness, there were many times when I wondered if I was losing my mind! The area rug that Kerrie picked out for our dining room is a kind of abstract monochromatic floral print. I would lay on my side on the couch in the dining room, propped up by one of the big hospital wedge pillows Kerrie had bought me and I would see faces in the carpet. A cowboy, a couple sharing a glass of wine, a hippie dude with a broken guitar… And I would imagine life stories for these bizarre carpet people. I would try to fit them in lax lineups or compose sermons for them. And then I would swear I was losing my mind!
I was also hearing choirs. No lie! This strange phenomenon actually started in the hospital. I would turn to Kerrie and whisper, “Do you hear that choir?” And it was always children singing. I never told the doctors or nurses about hearing the choirs – that might have put me on a floor in the hospital I wouldn’t have liked so much.
The human mind is a funny thing – and it seems especially to act funny when it is under a lot of stress. As I write this blog, it has been over a week since I heard one of my choirs singing and I don’t see faces in the carpet anymore. I don’t know how typical or rare it is for recoveries from head surgeries to experience these types of things, but if it is ever your turn, hang in there and enjoy the music!
On Saturday or Sunday I once again heard a children’s choir and in my throaty sotto voce I called Kerrie, “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” she replied.
“The children are singing again!”
I got up from the couch and stepped out the back door onto the patio. And there were the voices! Somewhere down the street there was a young girl’s birthday party and however many seven or eight year old girls were in attendance, they regaled me with song after song as only young, unselfconscious children can. It was priceless. So, if you are hearing voices in your recovery, keep listening! Sooner or later, the choir is bound to arrive.
These days were also tough on me and Kerrie. The most unwelcome part of my recovery during the first week and a half of being home concerned my dread of going to bed. Not only would I be in a constant psychological struggle with the drowning sensation. But my head would throb. It wasn’t simply post-surgery pain. Rather, it was connected to the temperature. There are a lot of good things that may be said about living in Southern California. Attention to detail in home construction is not one of them. Our church house for example, was built forty or fifty years ago, and there is not one shred of insulation in the walls. During the hot days, the AC is in overdrive keeping the house cool (the ridiculously inefficient ventilation scheme doesn’t help). During the cool evenings, the temperature in the house drops quickly- especially when a window is opened and a ceiling fan is switched on. And when that cold air hit the shaved back of my head where the surgical wound was it felt like an ice pick hammering at that little titanium plate that was holding my brain box together. So Kerrie would be burning up or I would be freezing. These were difficult days.
One of the things that I learned during this first full week of recovery at home was that the road to health and wholeness is not linear. It does not proceed step-wise from A to B to C… Instead it is more of a cyclical or iterative process. You experience a bit of growth in A, then something changes in C, B might get a little worse, then better. A seems plateaued, then C takes two steps forward, then a big one back… There is an ebb and flow to strength, energy level, willingness to fight for everything from calories to sleep… Encouragement is not constant, neither is hope. The one thing that is constant for me is the will to trust enough to keep the fight going – with whatever strength I can muster.
Over the years I have quoted an ancient Israelite proverb to lacrosse players and visitors to my pastor’s office alike: “If you falter in times of trouble, how small then is your strength.” Proverbs 24:10. It is only when you are at the very breaking point that your strength is actually seen most clearly. The weight lifter’s strength cannot be measured until he can bear no more. The runners speed is unknown until she cannot sprint one step faster. The team’s unity cannot be assessed until they lose that heart-breaker in overtime. And I cannot prove to a watching family the strong merits of trusting God in undesired circumstances if I will not trust him enough to exercise what strength of character he has given me. God is bigger than my current discomfort. As one of my parishioners read to me from Psalm 46, God is himself with his people, we will not be moved. God will help us at break of day.
Until then may God be with you my friends. As you stand up under the difficulties you embrace day after day may you come to know that God is indeed a “refuge and a strength for his people – a very present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Tomorrows Therapeutic Writing Assignment: Let the Good Times Roll – A Large Fries and a Slow God.
N.B. The picture is of the awesome banner the kids brought by.