The month of September 2015 will not be forgotten in my family. It was the month that my son Collyn lost his ability to walk.
In late August, he had an episode of intense abdominal pain. Kathleen took him to urgent care, and that led to a series of tests resulting in a positive diagnosis for Crohn’s disease. The confirming colonoscopy was done on September 9th. The next day, Collyn found that he couldn’t get up from the sofa and couldn’t walk on his own. He reported that his legs felt weak and that they wouldn’t respond; sort of how it is when your legs fall asleep, but without the buzzy tingling.
We were alarmed and took him back to the doctor. They had no experience with these particular symptoms as it related to Crohn’s, but the suspicion was that he was having an adverse reaction to the prescribed meds. They adjusted his treatment, stopping one medicine altogether. Days passed, but Collyn did not regain the use of his legs. Each day was exponentially scarier, as we didn’t know what was causing his condition or how long it would persist.
On Friday the 25th, we took him to the Hershey Medical Center. Doctors there were also baffled by his condition. They suggested that we go to the Emergency Room. There we spent the better part of the afternoon and evening as one doctor after another examined him. Collyn’s case reached the head of Neurology, who happened to be on the campus that evening. Against the odds, he decided to examine Collyn personally. He suggested that we admit him to conduct a battery of tests including a full MRI of his spinal column and a lumbar puncture. We felt blessed that the full force of modern medicine was being deployed to get to the bottom of Collyn’s mysterious disability.
It was a tough weekend. Collyn has extreme phobia about needles, and with the round-the-clock taking of blood and administering of IV’s, he was a human pincushion. The spinal tap was an ordeal. But through his fear and pain, I was proud of my son because he kept his spirit bright and cooperated with all of his caretakers.
The tests eliminated a whole range of potential causes from Lyme’s Disease to M.S. The neurologist’s initial suspicion that Collyn’s condition was related to the autoimmune dysfunction at the root of his Crohn’s seemed more and more likely. The scans showed evidence for transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. Rather than a reduced dose of the steroid, Collyn received a fivefold increase in dosage via I.V., beginning late Saturday night.
By lunchtime on Sunday, Collyn stood without aid. He was released from the hospital and was, albeit weakly, able to walk from the car to the house. As I write he remains weak and sore, but each day he seems to be doing a little better. It feels like a miracle to us.
Maybe you’ve experienced serious health scares. When they happen, your life retracts and you focus your attention upon those things that truly matter. What became clear for us through this experience were the primacy of faith, family, and friends.
There are plenty of things that go “right” and go “wrong” in our lives. We are the authors of these labels, and we relish how good or regret how bad a circumstance may be. The truth? We rarely, if ever, know if our judgment is correct in the context of the bigger picture. We just can’t know the ripple effects of happenstance. We feel pain or loss. It hurts. We say that this is bad. Short term? Maybe. Long term? Maybe not.
When I think about this truth, I always remember the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, upon losing his reputation and business, figured that his life was worthless. He was given the miracle gift to see what the world would have been like if only he hadn’t ever lived. Talk about a paradigm shift!
Now of course this was just a story. As I mentioned, we don’t know how the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that strike us affect everyone whose lives we touch. Whatever they are, I suspect that these effects are both positively and negatively charged. I suppose it’s my faith that makes me believe that it all works for good in the end. It comes from my belief in God, of a natural order, of a greater plan that assures that all is as it was meant to be.
Maybe you’re a materialist (meaning that you discount the supernatural.) Even so, you can probably acknowledge that reality is in fact more than meets the eye. What we witness and measure in the material world is a function of our perceptive powers. What’s actually going on, we continue to learn, is an energetic dance of mind-numbing complexity and beauty, the scope of which we are just beginning to sense.
Everything is energy. Einstein figured that out over a century ago (E = mc2, anyone?). Our thoughts and feelings, expressed aloud or not, are forms of energy. Here is where prayer enters the picture. When we pray, we in essence intentionally focus energy. I don’t know how it works, whether the person of God hears and reacts or the energy flows through a process or mechanism that is beyond our ken. Either way, we feel the effects.
Collyn and our family have unknown numbers of people praying for us. Through our church and our network of friends, our situation has been included in prayer lists of probably a dozen congregations as well as numerous other prayer circles. Added to prayers of our own, this spiritual support has made us feel more robust, more able to handle whatever is in store. This feeling is often described as “grace.”
I asked my son if he felt the people praying for him. He said that he did, that he felt that he was “supported” and that this has helped keep his spirit up. I suppose that this is good way to describe grace as well.
I don’t know if it was a God thing that we happened to bring Collyn to Hersey when we did, or that one of the best doctors available took personal interest in him. The morning of the lumbar puncture, I was in the lobby on the phone. When my conversation ended, I returned to the room at a critical time of the procedure. Kathleen told me that Collyn became more calm and resolute when I came to his side. I don’t know if that was a God thing either. But it might have been.
Collyn has been disappointed that he is behind in his schoolwork and that he’s missing marching band. He is stir crazy and wants his old life back. He also has, whether he fully appreciates it now or not, a new found understanding and compassion for people confined to a wheelchair. There’s no knowing how that might affect his future attitude, actions, and relationships. But I bet there’s some good to be found there. This is perhaps another form of grace.
Through Kathleen’s fight with breast cancer over most of the past year, she reported that she felt “at peace,” especially during times when she knew that worry could have taken her down a spiral descent. These health challenges caused disruption in our lives, but never derailing. Life has marched along, as rich and rewarding as ever. I suppose this is grace also.
The sense of peace and power that we’ve had throughout is a result of prayer. The appreciation and sense of abundance that we feel because of the many people who expressed their prayers and well wishes is also grace. Grace is a consequence of prayer. This is the power of prayer.