Here at the California Bjerkaas house, we probably had the most laid-back Labor Day in the entire country. Nothing but napping and soft foods all day long. It was like a sneak preview of my retirement…
Tuesday morning, after the kids left for school, Kerrie and I decided to go to the IHOP down the street for breakfast. As a pastor, I frequently meet with people for coffee or a bite to eat, and the IHOP on Kanan Road is on the short list of establishments I frequent. Walking in, we sat in one of the booths opposite the dining bar – but Luigi did not wait on us! They had a new waitress and the booths had been assigned to her. Kerrie had one of the small combo breakfasts and I had my usual – half an order of French toast. Luigi came by to check out the cane and the scar, and he shared with us a very encouraging story of his mother’s complete recovery from a head surgery. It was good to get out of the house and connect with people from my ‘normal’ life. Our new waitress was kind enough to take a picture of us on our first post-op date.
This was the third week since surgery, and despite the feeling I had that nothing was changing, Kerrie and the kids were insistent that my voice was getting a little bit better every day. When you are the one doing the recovery, it is so hard to notice the small improvements – at least that has been true of me.
There were, however, some changes in my condition that I very much wanted to force. I considered it something of a tragedy that two of my favorite things -eating and sleeping, had become such unpleasant and difficult affairs. There were some things I could do about the sleeping issues.
Going to bed offered three major hurdles. The problem posed by keeping my shaved head and exposed surgical wound warm at night was taking care of itself. Despite having inherited some specious genes, the hair is good! It is plenty thick and grows fast. Similarly, I could now lay on both my left and my right side without too much discomfort. But what about that drowning sensation and the need to have the hose from the Baby Smile Nasal Aspirator duct taped to my hand?
I have taken a piece of Jesus’ teaching as axiomatic for all of life. In John 8:32, he tells those who follow him, “If you hold to my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Freedom is often the result of confident obedience, whether we are obeying God or a doctor’s orders or a pharmacist’s prescription instructions… We often experience truth and freedom when we are committed to doing what we are told by those who know best – whether we feel like it or not! Too often we would have the freedom come first. Sadly, life does not always work that way. Sometimes we have to “hold to the teaching” before we experience its truth and find our freedom.
There were two things that I knew to be facts. First, my surgeon, whose descriptions of what my recovery would be like had been nothing if not thorough and accurate, had never said that anyone had actually drowned in their sleep. Second, I had in fact fallen asleep every evening since coming home and I had not drowned a single time. Therefore, my anxiety regarding the difficulty of swallowing excessive amounts of spit that I was not swallowing ‘automatically’ was groundless. Despite how difficult it was to lay down without taping that hose to my left hand, it was time to cast that crutch off. Throughout the night I would still wake up and have to intentionally force my body to swallow. But I could handle that.
And here I am blogging about it a week later. I still haven’t drowned.
I have also built up far more strength and balance when walking. The $2.50 cane had served its purpose. While I still took it with me on longer trips, I decided that I would attempt more and more to get around the house without it.
On Thursday the 7th, I climbed the forty steps from Hollytree Road up to the practice field behind Medea Creek Middle School. Oak Park Lacrosse was beginning its Starz Fall-ball League. It was great to see the guys and meet the new class of freshmen. I was able to stay for almost twenty minutes before I was exhausted. And it was very frustrating to be unable to speak above a loud whisper.
The highlight of this third week, by a long shot, was when the doorbell rang on Friday. I was expecting a group of kids I had coached – both alumni and current lacrosse players. I even put on my SF State cap before opening the door to show some respect for one of my alumni’s current school. I opened the door. And there was Ellie my sister-in-law! Steve my brother was behind her to the left. They had flown in from Maryland to surprise me with five boxes of Berger cookies and a comic book (just about my post-op reading speed). We had a blast with Uncle Steve and Aunt Ellie here. It turns out that Kerrie and the kids knew all about their visit – they did a great job of keeping it a surprise.
The past and present lacrosse crew did come by on Friday and it was great to connect with those guys and girls. Brendan, an All American LSM back in 2014, read Psalm 64 – a psalm that deals with the destructive power of words and the final justice of God. There is something priceless about old players coming back and ministering to their old coach. And the lemon cookies they brought were awesome.
That psalm was a good one for me. It starts with David the Psalmist asking that his life be preserved from what he fears and it ends with him declaring, “Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!” Whatever you or I happen to be afraid of in whatever chapter of life we are currently experiencing, we can still trust that God’s redemptive justice is more than equal to our present challenges.
May your days be filled with the finest things in life – good friends and family, French toast and cookies, and above all else the freedom that comes from taking God at his word and trusting that his eternal purposes will always prevail – however difficult it is to swallow or speak today.
N.B. The picture is of me and Kerrie at the IHOP. I wear lacrosse caps backwards when I am out in public – that way the cap’s bill covers a rather unsightly scar going down the back of my neck. Post surgery, the hair on the back of my head is very short- the hair on the sides and front is getting long. I am hoping to get a haircut to acquire a more normal look in the next week or two!