As the sunlight filters its glistening beams across the too-full room in the ICU, I awake. To my right, head bowed, hands bent and clasped, is the psychiatrist who loves Jesus. She lifts her head, smiles and says in a gentle voice, “Good morning, Abigail. I have been praying for you.”
I am in a state hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I have lived in this city the last three years. There are many tubes in me whose purposes I do not know. It is still a mystery why I am in this part of the hospital. Most likely I reacted badly to the load of sedatives shot into my leg my first day here.
No matter. But yes, it matters. The glass has shattered. The shards have pierced. The blood has flowed.
My life will never be the same.
This sunlit morning, after days of not being able to breathe, is one of hope. This very personal apocalypse has led me to a new life. I have no idea what it will be, but it will be.
And yet how do I face the haunting weeks prior to this morning? How do I face the terrifying unknown to come?
Woven and knotted through these past weeks was fervent prayer—prayers I prayed and prayers others had prayed for me. There were also sleepless nights, delusion, incoherent action and the ripping apart of body, mind, soul and spirit.
In the coming weeks this will be called the manifestations of bipolar disorder. I will receive a costly diagnosis. It will come after two weeks in a foreign hospital and the tearing out of a life we had planned, prayed, and worked towards for ten years.
And yet, somehow …
Just one month before my hospital stay, I spoke to 500 women from all over Eastern Europe and Russia. The theme was “story.” I shared how God takes the threads of our stories in all their broken, dull and knotted places and transforms each piece until it is one gleaming strand in God’s story of redemption.
I meant every word. But I had no idea what would come a tiny bit of time later. In that moment, in front of those women, everything I was becoming, my own story, seemed ready for its denouement as past pain was becoming transformed by grace.
But then this. Oh please, God, no, not this.
This sunlit morning is touched with transcendent grace. God is reaching through the gaping cavern of my heart with a promise. “This will not be your end. You will find a way through.”
I need this hope.
The first medicine they give me after the ICU is not kind. It fills me with side effects, neuropathy as if I were in some form of chemotherapy, a “jumping out of my skin” steroid-like effect and the gait of an elderly person.
In which warped universe am I? When will I get out? Please, can I?
As I laid in my bed the days before and while at the ICU, I only remember I couldn’t breathe. And somewhere I wondered, “Will I live?” In my delusion, I had been seeing visions of heaven and hell, mostly hell. So I wasn’t afraid to die. I had stared head-on into the worst.
But living? I didn’t know if I wanted to. I wanted God’s arms.
Yet I was given life. And with it, a thread of story so knotted, ripped apart and tangled, who could make sense of it?
The sunlit morning came and went. One tiny seed of hope buried deep inside. And then he came. This man I love. I saw how his worry lines had grown. These last weeks had torn him apart too.
He came in the evenings and read from the Psalms. I still couldn’t sleep. But as he spoke aloud those honest cries, I would fall asleep for only minutes, but it was enough. My tiny seed of hope sparked.
And this is how it went and this is how it goes. There is no making sense, no untangling of the mangled thread. No mending the torn. The wounds are still raw and the patches of healing bear wide scars and a profound ache.
But somehow, some way, for my husband and three kids, and yet first for me, I am finding a way to keep walking this story. Not a pretend one. Not another’s. But mine. In all of its moments and days and terrifying ways, I am finding a way. In all of its glaring uncertainty and determined ends, I am finding a way. Somehow, I am finding a way, one breath, one thought at a time, to let the hope press itself defiantly through to new life.
It’s almost two years now since that Sunday morning. We have moved three times. We have not gone back to the places and faces on the other side of the ocean which we still hold close. In May of last year, as a surprise to everyone, I was again hospitalized with insomnia, delusions and terrorizing thoughts.
Some days it is so very hard. So hard to remember I am more than a diagnosis. So hard to not play out what would lead to more hospital stays. So hard to take bitter medicine. So hard to find that hope.
Yet this is my story. And this is God’s story. Here is my strength and I will lift up the sunlight. His promise is full restoration one day and this is his gift to give us: great hope. Yet too, there are knots, tangles and ripped places in the thread of redemption. The hard, hot breaths are his. The shredded places are his. The I-am-not-sure-what-it-will-be-but-it-will-be next moment is his.
My shaking hands cupping the tiniest seed of hope are his. And this is enough. It must be enough to walk a story like mine, like yours. It must be enough because ICU’s are real. Hell is real. And by God, heaven is real. And the struggle for life, to know it, live it, love it is very real.
And so, it must be enough. Beloved, it must be enough.
I am a lover of story; yours, mine and God’s. I am a student of life which is ever surprising me as it unfolds. I know my greatest hope is God, and my greatest joy is in Him and in loving the husband and three precious children He has given me.