Happy New Year, friends! How are you?
Admittedly, it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve needed to spend the past couple of months focusing on getting our family through a difficult season of sudden health challenges and unexpected transitions. It’s been a lot to manage and to process. But—by the grace of God alone—we are beginning the new year with great hope and gratitude. I’m eager now to return to this space, to write again regularly, and to reconnect with all of you.
My first order of business, though, is to give witness to God’s goodness through it all.
In the coming weeks, we’ll share more of what God’s been doing in our little corner of the world and what we’ve been learning along the way. We’ve been repeatedly blown away!
So, to get the ball rolling, what follows is my attempt at a CliffsNotes version of the story itself…
On Saturday, October 13, Peter and I were scheduled to speak at a marriage retreat for our church. That morning, Peter went ahead of me to help set up, and when I arrived, he let me know that he wasn’t feeling well. He had a headache. He had taken ibuprofen though, and he wanted to go ahead as planned. And so, we did.
Interestingly…ironically…providentially…the title for the event was “Marriage under Pressure.” In the morning session, we spoke specifically on “Fear and Faith in Marriage,” and we examined the story of Abram and Sarai in Genesis chapter 12. As a couple, Abram and Sarai faced their share of dangers, and they suffered several unrealized dreams. Unfortunately, just like all of us, they sometimes responded to those pressures out of fear—rather than faith.
By way of illustration, Peter and I shared a few of the threats and trials we have faced in our marriage—as well as some of our unrealized dreams. Interestingly…ironically…providentially…Peter spoke specifically about his fear of sickness and death. Both his grandfather and his father died quite young. And this has weighed on Peter quite a lot.
At lunchtime, he told me that his head still hurt, but he insisted on finishing the day. And so, we did.
Our final afternoon session was titled “Spiritual Authenticity in Marriage.” We looked at that infamous New Testament couple, Ananias and Sapphira. We talked, of course, about the poor choices they made, the lies they told and believed, and what may have motivated them. Then, we challenged the couples who were gathered there that day to move toward greater transparency—in their marriages and in our community—because every family, every marriage, needs support.
Interestingly…ironically…providentially…as Peter was delivering his portion of that final talk, he found it increasingly difficult to communicate clearly, and I was getting increasingly concerned. As soon as he finished speaking, he went into one of the nearby offices and vomited—at which point, I put him and Amelia in the car, and we drove to the ER.
When we arrived at the hospital, Peter was a bit confused. The nurse called the “stroke alert” and whisked him back while Amelia and I waited in the ER bay and prayed. It wasn’t too long before they brought Peter back to the bay, still awake but even more muddled. At that point, he didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t tell us the month or the year. And then he called the nurses “communists.” (?)
However, when the doctor came a little while later, he told us—to our great relief—that all of his tests were clear. There had been no stroke.
And at that point, I wasn’t surprised. This was familiar territory.
Two years ago Peter had a similar incident. One evening in March 2016, he and I were sitting in our breakfast nook with a realtor, reviewing the paperwork to put our 1920s Craftsman home on the market. Peter had complained of a headache, but we weren’t initially concerned—he had them occasionally—but then, when the realtor presented the documents for our signatures, Peter had trouble signing his name.
When the realtor left, Peter turned to me and said something that made no sense at all. The words, I could understand, but they were completely out of context.
“You’re not making sense,” I told him—panicking.
He replied with more nonsense—at which point, I put him and the kids in the car, and we drove to the ER.
That time, too, they called the “stroke alert.” That time, too, they ran all of the tests—the CT scan, the MRI. And that time, too, all of his tests were clear.
That time—though—within an hour, Peter had returned to normal. The headache had lifted. The confusion had passed. So, that time, the neurologists diagnosed his situation as a “Complex Confusional Migraine” and sent us home.
The follow-up tests found nothing notable. No treatment was prescribed. And no lingering effects were evident.
So sitting in that ER bay by Peter’s bedside on October 13, I thought we were seeing a repeat of March 2016. The doctors did too. “It’s just a bad migraine,” they said. “Sleep is the best cure.”
Amelia and I stayed by Peter’s side all evening while he slept, waiting for him to wake up and be himself again. However, by 8 p.m. each time he roused, he was still very confused. He still spoke nonsense. He still didn’t know where he was.
The neurologist decided, then, to admit him and watch him overnight. So Amelia and I told him good night. We picked up Daryl from a friend’s house and went home to get some rest.
That night, lying in bed and praying for Peter, I was certainly rattled, but still not unduly concerned. “It’s just a bad migraine,” I kept reminding myself. “Sleep is the best cure.”
The next morning—Sunday—I took the kids with me to the hospital. I was hopeful that we would find Peter back to his normal self. The migraine would have lifted, and we would bring him home.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we found.
Peter was awake when we arrived. He recognized us, but he was irritable—angry, even. And everything that came out of his mouth made no sense.
So that afternoon they ran more tests—an MRA, then an EEG. Both—normal.
By Monday, Peter was very slightly improved. He still couldn’t tell us where he was. When the doctors and nurses asked for his address, one time he gave his childhood home. One time he gave our old Evanston address. One time he couldn’t come up with anything at all.
That afternoon after one of the neurologists came by, I followed her into the hallway, asking her for more answers or a plan. “What now?” I asked. “He isn’t improving. This can’t be a migraine.”
She just looked at me and shrugged. “His tests are normal,” she repeated. Then she remarked, “As a neurologist, I find this fascinating.” I’m sure my face registered something—Panic? Disbelief? Helplessness?—because she quickly added, “Oh, I realize for you this is a nightmare.”
On Tuesday—out of ideas—the neurologist sent in a psychiatrist. “They are grasping at straws,” I told him.
To which he responded, “I think you’re right.” He prescribed an antidepressant and left.
However, the paperwork we received in the mail the following week from that hospital indicated that they had diagnosed “Conversion Disorder”—physical symptoms that cannot be explained by medical evaluation.
In an effort to keep this brief, I will simply say that on Wednesday I had Peter discharged from our local hospital and took him to Northwestern hospital for a second opinion. We spent many hours waiting in the ER, but—thankfully and eventually—we got to see the doctors there, who also weren’t satisfied with the “diagnosis” we had received. They admitted Peter and reran the CT scan. The CT tech saw something that she didn’t like—something that didn’t appear on the earlier workup. So they reran the MRI.
At 5:30 on Thursday evening the Northwestern neurologist swept into Peter’s room—followed by 8 – 10 of his students. They make quite an impressive and overwhelming entrance. “We’re back…with answers,” the neurologist announced.
“Answers sounds good,” I said.
Then he told Peter, “You’ve had a stroke.”
It was a small one, deep in the brain, in the thalamus, near the center for language and memory—his two main deficits. “You should make a strong recovery,” he assured us. “But it will take some time.”
What I want to give witness to today is the goodness of God. His providence and His grace.
I’ve been studying the Book of Ruth again, and—interestingly…ironically…providentially—I’ve had the opportunity to speak from this beautiful piece of literature a couple of times in recent months.
God’s sovereign work in our lives is one of the main themes of the book of Ruth. Specifically, His control and His power is made evident quite often in the timing of things—in the “ironic” and “providential” way that He moves “just on time.”
Over and over again, I saw and experienced His “just-on-time” hand, guiding my thoughts and my heart and my steps throughout this journey.
When I began to despair or feel alone, JUST THEN a friend would come by…
When I didn’t know where to go for a second opinion, JUST THEN a friend sent a text with a recommendation…
When I needed courage to take the next step against the doctor’s opinion, JUST THEN a friend called and encouraged me to make a move…
Over and over and over—far too many times to list—God provided JUST THEN.
At one of Peter’s follow-up appointments, another neurologist told us, “You dodged a bullet.”
That’s one way to look at it. We are well aware that this could have turned out differently. And God still would have been good.
But we are also aware that we have had a front row seat—yet again—to the watch the grace and sovereignty of God on grand display.
It’s by the grace and sovereignty of God that Peter is still alive.
It’s by the grace and sovereignty of God that the stroke was small.
It’s by the grace and sovereignty of God that Peter is making a strong recovery and will return to work in a couple of weeks.
And it’s by the grace and sovereignty of God that our community has shown us love in so many beautiful ways. (More on that in my next post.)
The book of Ruth ends with the women rejoicing over the redemption they have seen in Naomi’s life. “Praise be to the Lord…” they exclaim. “May he become famous throughout Israel!”
And that is our testimony today as well.
“Praise be to the Lord!”
“May He become famous!”