Broken by Grace in a Journey through Dark Places
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I’m a Christian and have been for a long time so this Scripture verse is one that profoundly speaks to me as a person of faith. I define “The Blessing of Suffering” as the positive outcomes of the very difficult and frequently painful trials of life we often experience. Grace, defined as God’s unmerited favor is what sustains and brings us, as believers, through the dark places of suffering, trials, and tribulations and helps us to emerge transformed, renewed and redirected. I’ve experienced my fair share of troubles in life, but nothing made this verse clearer to me than the experiences I went through in a 16-month period beginning in 2005.
March 16th, 2005 is a date I will never forget. I was at work that day, tying up loose ends on a 20-year run of my work life that was scheduled to end in June of that year. The pharmaceutical company I worked for was relocating to New Jersey and had offered employees a generous relocation package complete with an offer of a down payment for the purchase of a house for those of us who chose to move. I was making a great salary as a Manager and had been mulling the decision for a couple of months whether to stay with the Company or leave. Then the day arrived when I had to make that fateful choice. To exit the Company meant that my tenure there would be over along with all the great benefits it offered. Obviously, this would be a very serious, life-affecting decision for my family and me. After much thought and prayer, I recall that the moment the contract was placed before me I just knew it wasn’t meant to be. I felt so strongly that I wasn’t supposed to go that I checked “no” on the form, signed on the dotted line and on that day in February of 2005 my time there was done. I took it as a providential moment and said to God, “I’m trusting You to take care of me and mine now.” By mid-March, most of my colleagues were gone from the NYC office, but I was still there working with a skeleton crew and training my replacement, grateful that my former employers had been gracious in extending my time until June 30th of that year. I knew that I was taking a giant leap of faith by leaving a good position, but my hope was that my many years of work experience would help me secure another job quickly. However, a call in mid-March would change everything.
The details are a blur now. I don’t think anyone is ever prepared to hear that their loved one has fallen seriously ill and is at death’s door, but I knew immediately afterward why I wasn’t meant to be in New Jersey. I was supposed to be here in New York City as I received the news that my mother had collapsed while grocery shopping and was in the hospital in extremely critical condition. After the initial shock of that call, I immediately left work to meet up with my sister at the Neuro ICU at Roosevelt Hospital. There we were told that our Ma had suffered an intraventricular hemorrhage. I remember seeing the scan of my mother’s brain and the doctors pointing out an entire darkened area near her brain stem where the brain bleed had occurred. They told us that those types of injuries are usually fatal and that she should have died instantly. In those moments, my Ma was in grave condition, but she was still alive, so I knew there was hope.
My Ma spent six weeks in a coma. Every day I’d leave work early to relieve my sister as she spent every moment possible with our mother. From the moment visiting hours started until they ended each evening, we made sure one or both of us were there. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to watch your loved one in a hospital bed, hooked up to all types of machines designed to keep them alive and they are completely unresponsive. No movement whatsoever as you sit there watching hour by hour praying for some gesture, some indication that they can hear and understand. It is the most helpless feeling in the world. Still, as I sat there each day and held and caressed my mother’s hand, I’d stroked her brow and gently pat the shaved head that doctors had operated on to relieve pressure on her brain, hoping and praying for a response. And I prayed and prayed some more. I prayed that she’d wake up. I prayed that she’d recover. I prayed to speak to her again, to have just one more conversation with my momma. I prayed that she’d come home, but mostly I prayed that she wouldn’t die.
My sister, Mita who was always the more emotional one constantly cried during that period. She remained anxious and worried about the outcome of Ma’s condition throughout the whole ordeal, but for some reason, I didn’t feel that way, at least not for a while. The more I prayed, the more confident I felt that my mother would eventually wake up and begin her recovery and she did. Six weeks after the accident, she finally opened her eyes, but she couldn’t move, and she couldn’t speak. Her body had lain in that prone position for so many weeks that it was going to take intensive physical therapy for her to recover movement in her limbs. She couldn’t speak because doctors had performed a tracheostomy on her to allow her to breathe. After two months at Roosevelt, she was moved to the acute rehab brain injury unit at the Hospital for Joint Diseases where she stayed another six weeks and received great care. Her physical therapy was coming along, but her brain injury had affected her cognitive abilities, and it was difficult for her to comprehend even the simplest of commands. She became impulsive, angered easily and acted more like a child than a 69-year-old adult. Because she’d had the tracheostomy where an incision is made in a patient’s windpipe to allow them to breathe through a tube that is inserted, that breathing tube or cannula had to be constantly monitored and cleaned to allow the flow of air to continue unimpeded. Once my mother was able to move her hands she kept trying to remove the cannula, so the nursing staff at Joint Disease placed bulky gloves on her hands to thwart her attempts to remove it. It was a continuous struggle to get her to cooperate, and she needed constant vigilance, but we were just glad our Ma was still alive.
Right before the six weeks were up at Joint Disease, we were told that she would need to be moved to a sub-acute rehab because Medicaid would no longer pay for her care. That meant that I had to find another rehabilitation center for my mother and it needed to have a unit that knew how to care for brain injury patients as well as provide a bed for her. I visited several places, some which I liked and others that were just nursing homes. The place I wanted did not have a bed available in time, and because my grandmother, who was in her 90s at the time had been unable to visit my mom due to the distance of the places she was receiving care at, I felt pressured to find a place closer to home. Eventually, I chose a place. It was a bus ride away for Abuela, was aesthetically pleasing and seemed to provide the services Ma would need. At least that’s what I was told. The administrators there gave me a nice song and dance along with assurances that they had all the medical facilities and trained staff to care for a patient like my mother. I chose to believe them and had my mother moved there just in the nick of time. I regret that decision to this day.
Often when we are in the midst of a trial, we don’t realize we’re in it until either a significant amount of time has passed or something major happens that awakens us to that grim fact. We live our lives so caught up in the cares of each day that we chalk up “bad” days to unforeseen or impossible circumstances. But what do you do when that “bad” day turns into a “bad” week or a “bad” month or a “bad” year?
As believers, we are often tested and face temptations daily. Sometimes they seem to come in like floods, which seem unstoppable and impossible to overcome. We need to be aware that the enemy of our souls makes it his cause to get us to sin and fall and lose our way or ultimately give up on our faith. But more importantly, we need to realize that the God we serve is keenly aware of our many flaws and weaknesses. He knows how much we can endure or to what point we can bear these bad circumstances. What we need to recognize is that nothing happens in a believer’s life that is not ultimately meant for our good. Think about it. Those “bad” circumstances you lament and carry on about are meant for your good! If God allows those times of trial and testing, it’s because He wants to see what you’re truly made of. Our trials are meant as a refining process in our lives so they will expose the weaknesses in you that need to be strengthened. God says in His Word in Zechariah 13:9a (CEV),
“Then I will purify them and put them to the test, just as silver and gold are purified and tested.”
One of the ultimate paradoxes in Scripture is found in the book of James, Chap. 1, vs. 2-4. It says,
“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Joy is defined in the dictionary as “an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” One would never think to associate the word “joy” with trials or testing which by their very meaning imply affliction or suffering. God Word’s provides the answers to every difficult moment in life by resolutely telling us that although
“we are hard pressed on every side (we are) not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4, vs. 8, 9 (NIV))
My Ma lasted at the sub-acute rehab less than two weeks. As soon as she arrived, we quickly realized that we had been deceived. The place was nothing more than a nice-looking nursing home. The “medical” facilities were non-existent, and the medical staff consisted of nursing assistants who didn’t even know what a cannula was. We warned them of Ma’s tendency to try and remove her cannula and they refused to put the gloves on her. In those two weeks, my mother suffered two falls, one of which left her painfully bruised and badly hurt and another day, she was taken to the emergency room because she took out her cannula and almost suffocated. Thankfully my sister was there and called 911 just in time. They wouldn’t allow us to stay with her even though she had her own room and so no one was there the night she removed her cannula again. This time no one realized it until it was too late. My Ma died of asphyxiation in the early morning of June 25th, 2005. She passed on her eldest grandson, Jordan’s 17th birthday.
Our entire family was now in mourning. Losing a loved one is probably the most difficult trial, humanly speaking, that a person can go through, but I believe with all my heart that God gave my family and me an opportunity to say goodbye to our matriarch. He gave us three extra months in fact, and I’m so grateful for that. One thing that amazed me through those first few days of funeral preparations was that God’s Word, which is chock full of wonderful promises, takes on even deeper meaning when you’re in the midst of a trial such as this. The Lord would bring to mind verses like Psalm 116:15, which says,
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
Or 2 Corinthians 5:8, where Paul says that,
“to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
There are just so many marvelous and encouraging verses in Scripture that bring us through this difficult process, and it certainly did that for me.
After Ma’s death, I spent some time doing all the things one does when you lose a loved one. Then a new school year began, and I decided to start seeking employment just to keep myself busy. I didn’t want to spend my time thinking about Ma’s death. I wanted to see it as a home going. She went to heaven because God wanted her home. I began anticipating that wonderful heavenly reunion that is so certain for the believer. The sadness would seek to overwhelm me at times because the reality was and is that I missed her terribly but it often dissipated with the joyful realization that Mami was with the Lord. She’s now in that awesome place described in Revelation 21, where it says, there’s no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Mami was no longer suffering, and that made me glad. How could I feel otherwise? It’s not to say that sadness doesn’t come. Grief happens and it comes in waves, but during that period, for me, reflecting on Heaven provided the solace I sorely needed.
Six more months passed and at first, I had a couple of good prospects but one fell through and the other I declined it because I didn’t feel it was the right fit for me. At the time, I could afford to wait. I was collecting separation pay until mid-May of the following year. I thought I had plenty of time to find another position. After all, everyone told me how great my resume was and that I shouldn’t have a problem finding another job. But unbeknownst to me, God had other plans, and there a new phase of my trial began in earnest.
In January of 2006, I decided as if awakened from a slumber that I should be taking advantage of my forced time off and give more of that time to the Lord. Although I had begun praying more and was developing more of a discipline in this area, I still wasn’t where I needed to be which was consistent. I would drop my son off at school, come home and begin to pray and pray. I began reading the Bible more earnestly, and as I read Scripture, I began writing down the Bible promises that were encouraging to me. I decided to begin keeping a journal, but it was mostly Bible verses at first and I began recording anything I would read or hear that I felt applied to me and my experience.
I would read Hebrews 12:11 which reads,
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it”,
What serenity those words would bring to my heart! I knew that eventually, no matter how long God took in this process I would come forth as gold with experiences that were shaping me to be what God wanted me to be. My faith was building. My confidence was growing. My trust was developing. I was learning patience. I was learning to wait on the Lord.
The months passed and still no job offers. By this time, I had submitted over 100 applications and resumes to all different types of employers. The silence was deafening. The stillness was disquieting. I had to pray. I needed Him to provide that calm, that firm assurance that in due course everything was going to be alright.
Mid-May arrived and my separation pay ended. Now began the real test of faith and learning how to trust God completely. I spent May, June, and July seeking His direction and would find just enough of the funds I needed to pay the essential bills although the only salary was my husband’s which wasn’t much but God was faithful. I used up my 401k and borrowed from friends and family to see us through those months. In mid-August, I found myself in the same dilemma and still no job on the horizon. I needed $1,700 to meet my rent and other important bills of the month and so I began to believe God for a miracle.
On August 20th at 3:54 pm I wrote in my journal the following words, “I’ve asked the Lord to supply our need for the bills this month…by faith this prayer will be answered days before September 1st.” and I highlighted those words. That night, a former Pastor who was a dentist and owned a clinic called and asked if I would work in for him a couple of weeks to cover for his vacationing receptionist. I knew God was beginning to answer my prayer. I worked for him nine days, and he paid me $1,100. On Friday, September 1st I attended a weekend retreat with the Preteen ministry at our church, and I remember saying, “Lord, I am not taking the burden of the additional money we need with me. You provided the $1,100, and I know without a doubt You will provide the rest.” It was just a matter of time. I went on the retreat and was truly blessed.
The Monday after the retreat which was Labor Day I got a call from one of my sisters. At the time, she lived on a fixed income so I had not asked her for anything thinking she would not be able to give me anything but she wanted to help. I don’t even remember telling her about it. I told her not to worry, but she said to me, “No, no matter what I’m going to find a way to get you that money you need.” By Thursday of that week, she had deposited the balance in my checking account, and my need was met. Praise be to God!
That same week, I got a call about two jobs and interviewed for both. The first job was not to my liking, but the other seemed perfect. I noticed right away how God had changed me. When I came before the Lord about the job, I said, “Lord, not my will but yours be done.” No matter how wonderful it looked, I wanted God’s perfect will and would settle for nothing less. I got the job I so desired, and I knew it was God’s will for me at the time. It’s not about the money. I wasn’t going to make as much as I used to. It’s never about what I think is perfect for me. It’s about what He wants and this new job, at the time, was what He wanted for me. I looked forward to fulfilling His purpose in my new workplace, and I thanked Him every day for the opportunity to be a light in the midst of the darkness.
I know God had stayed His hand in my job situation. He was not allowing me to move forward in this because He was teaching me life-changing lessons. He was teaching what it means to live by faith. He taught me what it means to wait on Him. He taught me that He IS JEHOVAH JIREH! He taught me to rely with confidence upon His Word. He showed me that His love and mercy for me are greater than all my sin.
I can’t even begin to put into words how grateful I am to God for the blessing of suffering. Faith was triumphant, and I’m a new person in Him. I’m not perfect. I never will be but I know I’m being perfected in Christ each and every day. I know now without a doubt that with God all things are possible and that no one person, experience or circumstance will ever change that reality.
I left that job in 2009 and experienced another lean period of unemployment, but again God was faithful, and in due time, I received another job offer that was walking distance from home. There I’ve been privileged to work with a great group of colleagues and I continue to learn and grow as God sees fit to show me His way. I’ve been through so much more, before and after these moments described, and maybe some day I’ll write about those too, but the gist of it is this… God is faithful. He was and is to me, and so He will be to you. So, if you’re going through a trial in your life right now, my advice to you is, DON’T GIVE UP! He will see you through all situations you face. He is our Helper in a time of the storm. He is our Shield and our Deliverer. That’s a promise. Remember this…
“Blessed is the man who perseveres (endures) under trial (temptation) because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. “ James 1:12