Early May was a very intense time of pain, fevers, bleeding in the brain, and neurological decline for my daughter, Johanna. Those weeks were quickly overshadowed by our 24 hour period at home which ended abruptly with an intractable grand mal seizure.
I wrote about the intense hospital stay which followed in my last column. It was a hard time which inspired many people to pray.
But what I didn’t write about was the fire.
Wait- before you think we had a fire in our house- be assured we did NOT have anything literally go on fire. Yet, we are most certainly feeling the heat- not only of these intense summer temperatures- but also from the trials.
The night Johanna suffered an intractable grand mal seizure, I felt like life was on fire. It seemed like something was smoldering in the hospital stay the two weeks prior, with a few convulsions on one side of her body. It was like tremors in the earth that serve as warning signs before a big earthquake.
My daughter’s brain was getting ready to fire.
Our second night at home from the hospital, I put Jo to bed early and I stayed up to chat with my older kids before they left for their own homes. My daughter heard Johanna cry out for me.
I ran into the room and heard her vomiting in bed. As I rolled Jo on her side, her jaw clenched and body in violent convulsions, her eyes met mine for a moment. But then she was gone- swept up into the massive electrical charges that were firing in her brain.
My instincts kicked into high gear as I screamed for my older daughter to call 911. I kept clearing Jo’s mouth of vomit and began barking out her medical history to my daughter to convey to the 911 operator on the line. My husband ran outside with a flashlight to signal the police and ambulance up the long driveway to our home.
As attentive and hyper-focused as I was on Johanna, I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience. All at once I was fighting to save her life, praying out loud for the Lord’s assistance and thinking to myself, this not the way I ever could have imagined her life would end- in a blazing, violent storm in her brain.
My prayers were intertwined with swearing, in the stress of waiting for the ambulance to arrive- proving Johanna’s point about me to be true: “My mom prays a lot and swears a little”.
The details of that fateful night and the following weeks in the neuro-ICU are burned into my brain with great intensity. I say “burned” because it felt like we were going through a fire. It was hot and hard and everything that was stable in my life seemed to be burned up and rocked by these changes.
I came home from this experience searching for scriptures about how God spoke to others in the fire. There are lots of them. But an obscure reference in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 4 describes my experience best.
”You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness.Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. …Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?….You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth, he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. Because he loved you and chose you…He brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength…..Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. “ Deuteronomy 4:11-12, 33-39
It can be dangerous to take scripture out of context and cause people to do all sorts of weird things like gouging eyes and drinking poisons or playing with dangerous snakes. Still, God’s word is truly a living letter the Lord uses to speak to us even today.
The author was writing to the Israelites to remind them that God had rescued them from slavery and even though the times were hard, they needed to remember how God spoke in the fire.
And that’s what really caught my attention. You see, God uses really tough times to get our attention- that is if we let Him. For me, these most recent trials have shaken me out of my complacency.
Life had to slow down- which for me means getting uninvolved in anything that isn’t helping me to be more prepared; spiritually, physically and financially for the possibilities ahead.
My daughter came home from the hospital more fragile than before. She needs one to one assistance for most tasks now and is easily confused and distracted. We are adjusting to new monitoring systems, carrying emergency rescue medications, and seizure alerts sent to our phones.
Jo’s also growing stronger every day and has started to laugh again- a sight and sound I longed to see and hear just one month ago. We even wrote a poem together to help her describe how she was feeling. I think it’s the beginning of a new book we will write together.
These changes remind me of new growth which often occurs after the devastation of a forest fire. Plants and trees often re-appear stronger, even though the landscape changes. In time, where there once was flames, beauty flourishes amidst the ashes.
As God speaks in the fire, I find Him in the beauty of the beach at sunrise as the waves lap up on the shore. He gives me moments, which sometimes turn into hours, of reprieve. Because the fire melts away some of my complacency and selfishness, I am more appreciative of that beauty and more prepared for any trials ahead.
For now, I describe my life as BS- lol- before seizure- and after the seizure. Life will never be quite the same.
And yet this new norm is filled with great hope for a simpler lifestyle that keeps my eyes on the beauty and new growth before and ahead of me.
Are you experiencing trials in your life which make you feel like you are going through a fire? Take courage in these words:
For I am God and not a man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
Know that the Lord is present in the intense suffering of your life. He will see you through the fire. These trials by fire will not consume you and will even cause new growth to emerge and new beauty to flourish in the ashes.