Choices
The Lesson of Puppies I see Christians every day who say and do things that give us a bad name. They don’t mean to, but their comments make us look like fools, cause people to laugh at us and think Christians are just a bunch of loud talking idiots. During a recent hurricane one of these well meaning Christians rebuked the storm in God’s name and commanded it to be still. Needless to say it didn’t work. What it did do, however, was make him and us look stupid and destroyed our credibility in someone’s eyes. I saw another one who told another person to throw away their blood pressure medicine and be healed. That was a stupid, dangerous thing to say, a thing that again, made them and us look foolish. they should have considered that the blood pressure meds ARE God’s answer to that illness. The person being told to throw away their medicine had the good sense, by the way, to not do it. I hear Christians now and then ridiculing satan, shouting that we should “stomp that old devil” and “run him out of town”. The implication is that satan is a powerless, foolish buffoon. Both of those assumptions are wrong and can be deadly. Christians like that are bad for our image, they do more harm than good. I make it a point to try and never do that in anything I write on this site. Ironically, I am about to do that very thing but I’ve thought it over for a long time (4 years), and weighed the decision carefully. I decided this it too important NOT to tell. I will accept the ridicule, it’s a small price. This is about two encounters, one ‘real’ and one in a dream. Being in a dream doesn’t decrease its validity in the least, the Bible is full of people who God spoke to through dreams. Normal every day people with an every day boring life.  He did then and He does these days, He is after all, God and can do whatever He wants. So let me take us back to December of 1994, a bad period in my life, a period where my life ended and began, a period where everything changed in a heartbeat. It began on December third, around 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a Saturday. I was storming around in a bad mood, (I was like that a lot back then), I was going camping by myself to get away from it all. I was in a hurry, running around the house and in a heated dispute with my wife at the time, I don’t remember what it was about, funny how it was such a big deal at the time and so insignificant now. One second I was shouting as loud as I could, the next second I was babbling nonsense and starting to get weak in my legs. I knew what it was as soon as it had happened, I had seen it before in my grandmother. I was having a stroke at thirty eight. I managed to make it to the couch and sank down. I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember was my dad in my face talking to me, my wife had called him and 911. I remember being determined to not look weak and silly so when the EMT people got there I walked out to the ambulance on my own. That was the last I remember of that day. I’m told I started having seizures. My wife (at the time) was told in the emergency room that I would most definitely not live through the night and that she should go and tell the kids while she could. Being stubborn and rebellious, I didn’t die as predicted, I woke up the next day in a strange room, strange smells and strange faces. It wasn’t our local hospital, I knew that, but I didn’t know where. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t move my right side, couldn’t even feel my right side. The whole right side of my body was paralyzed, it seemed at the time that it just ceased to exist. I went from indestructible to a complete invalid in a few short minutes. It was a terrifying experience to say the least, I think only another stroke survivor could understand the feeling. After about a week or so of being in that hospital, it was decided that I was to be moved across the street to another hospital, who had a department dedicated to stroke patients. This was done, more strange places, more strange smells and more fear. Fear was alien to me then, until that I had never known it. I was young, tough, had all the answers (don’t all young people have all of them?) and could face anything, anything except my body ignoring me. Every day was spent laying in a bed, looking out a window, watching birds on the window sill as they met every day and chattered about their experience as birds. And then were the endless parades of doctors. I found out that this was a teaching hospital and I was a guinea pig, completely against my will. I was told by one doctor wannabe that I must accept the fact that I would never walk or talk again. I remembered those same words being told to my grandmother when she was in a hospital after her first stroke. I remember her slowly forming the words, her mouth struggling to work right if only for that one sentence. “Like hell” she said defiantly, then she looked at grandpa and said simply, “ball.”  I guess being married for a lifetime imparts some mystic communication because he understood perfectly what she wanted. He got her a tennis ball, which she put in her hand and squeezed all day to build up strength. That was the flashback I had when I was told that I would never walk or talk again. My response was “like hell.” They stopped therapy on me, feeling that it was a waste of time. They couldn’t treat me but wouldn’t release me (can you say ‘insurance’?) They just kept me there for days, which turned into weeks, doing nothing. There were two people that did seem to care, a social worker and an intern, they stopped in every day to check on me. The intern was a nice enough guy but I really looked forward to the visit from the social worker, she was after all cute, intelligent, compassionate and above all, cute (ok she was real cute). One day the intern came in and asked if I would be willing to talk with an old man he had met who also was a stroke patient, maybe this old guy would give me some encouragement. I agreed, since I couldn’t escape and since boredom was making me nuts. This is where the weird stuff starts. A little later a tall, bent, wrinkled old man was helped into the room. He had a shiny black cane with a silver head of some kind. He was helped to a chair and in a broken labored voice which I had now also acquired greeted me. We started to talk, as well as we could, the intern excused himself. I’m not sure if it was because he thought we needed privacy or because he couldn’t understand either of us and was uncomfortable but he left, nonetheless. At some point, I didn’t notice when, the old guy eased back into his chair, toyed with his cane and crossed his legs comfortably. He also started, at some point I didn’t notice, to speak like a normal person. His labored speech was gone, replaced by a well modulated, calm, almost pleasant voice. He had a look on his face I couldn’t figure out, it was somewhere between bitterness and amusement. What he had to say, I didn’t mistake for a second. “For the rest of your life, if you want to call it a life, will be worthless,” he said calmly. “You will never be able to do what you used to do, your life as you know it is over.”  This was encouragement? “The best thing you can do, best for you, your wife, your kids, for everyone is to just give up and die.” Then he started replying to things I was thinking but not saying. “You won’t go back to work, you won’t go camping or fishing or walking in the woods anymore. It’s over. Just die and let everyone get on with their lives.” I didn’t know who this guy was but I knew he wasn’t what he seemed to be. I thought it, I didn’t say it. He said “does it matter who I am? Does that change anything? Will who I am change any of the facts?” No, they wouldn’t, I started to believe him, I started to give up. After an hour or so, at least it seemed like an hour or so, the intern came back in to check on us. He was happy sounding, trying to sound up beat and not doing it well. “Well” he said, “did you guys have a nice talk?” I wouldn’t call it nice, but I couldn’t tell him that, I couldn’t form more than 3 or 4 words at a time. Neither apparently could my visitor, he was stumbling through words again, he sat stiff and miserable looking in the chair. He tried to get up and the doctor helped him up out of the chair. His last words before he left were “just do it.” He was helped out of the room, I was left alone, alone to think about what he had said. I also wondered who he was and why he was there, it certainly wasn’t to encourage. For the rest of the day and all through the night I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said. He was right, or so I believed. The next morning I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to sit up in a chair, I didn’t want to see Karen, the social worker. Friends came to visit me but I didn’t care, my interaction was kept to a minimum, I was giving up. I couldn’t express my emotions and thoughts to others, I wouldn’t have even if I could, this was my personal battle with my personal demons. The demons were winning. Later that day, the day after this dismal conversation, I found that I was sleepy so I closed my eyes. I had a dream. I dreamed I was sleeping, I heard the door open and someone come in. I opened my eyes to see a doctor I had never seen before. He was very familiar but I couldn’t place him, I had always been good with faces. He had well trimmed white hair and beard. He wore a standard issue white coat with one of those little black name tags with white letters that they wear in places like that. There were four letters on it, “YHWH.”  Ok, it was a dream, I usually knew when I was dreaming, this was no exception so I didn’t see this name as strange. For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know the significance of those letters, they’re one of the Hebrew names for God. He stood right beside me and looked at me, looked into me and through me, I have never before or since had a feeling like that. “Hi” He said, “How are you?” Why did he ask this? He knew I couldn’t talk. “This is a dream, remember? By the way, just because it’s a dream doesn’t make it imaginary” He said, “you can talk here.” Well this was awkward and unexpected. What does one say to God if He walks through the door unexpected? More questions and comments flooded my mind than I could handle. I probably should have asked some deep ponderous question like ‘what is the meaning of life’ or ‘what were you thinking when you made the duckbill platypus?’ but I didn’t. The deepest thing I could get out was “why are you here?” Profound, huh? “I’m always here” He said with a smile. The smile; that was the first magical thing that had ever happened to me, when He smiled I felt like leaping into the air and dancing, and I always have been a terrible dancer. “You know what..” the birds on the window sill were chattering and singing so loud It almost drowned out what I was saying. He looked at them and said “Boys, shhh”, they all fell silent. “You know what I mean” I continued. “After yesterday I thought you needed a house call.” He knew about that huh? What a silly question, He knew everything. “It was a bad day” I replied, hoping He wouldn’t know what my thoughts were on it but knowing that He did. “Yes, I know.” He said with a gentleness I had never heard before. “Don’t pay any attention to him, he’s a liar, he always has been.” “Was he lying this time?” “Well lets have a look at you and see” He said, sounding like a doctor. I knew that He knew the answer and that this was more for my benefit than anything else. He looked at me, again I knew He was looking inside of me. “Even now your brain is reconfiguring itself. Your heart is doing fine, a little oversized but ok. You need to get some exercise, those muscles aren’t in such good shape but you can fix that. All in all you’re doing pretty well physically, if you try you can be walking in 3 days.”  “Really?” I asked, I hadn’t imagined that possible. “Would I lie?” He said, that’s when it happened. The most profound thing ever to happen to me, the thing that changed everything. He laughed. How can I describe the laughter of God? How could I describe a color no one had ever seen? How could I explain a sound that has never been heard? I can’t. I can describe the feeling it caused. It is the feeling of a dozen puppies playing, ears flapping, tail wagging, tongues licking and me laying right in the middle of them. It’s the feeling of standing in the middle of a million butterflies, wings tickling and air swishing.  It is the feeling of watching a playground full of toddlers laughing, innocent and running over with life. It is the sound of a little brook that gurgles and hypnotizes us into a long peaceful nap. It is the sound of fall leaves blowing in the wind. It is more. As soon as He laughed, all was right with the world and there was no doubt that everything was under his guidance and control. From that point on, I knew that everything would be ok. “You’ll lose some things” He said, “but they’re things you don’t need and some are things you need to lose anyway. But I gave you some things that are worth more than what you lost, you’ll discover them later.” “Everything will be ok” I echoed, just savoring the words. “Everything will be fine” He said, “I wrote the book, I know the beginning and the ending.” “Does that leave room for us and our choices” I asked.  “Ah well, I left blanks you can fill in, this is an interactive story. I know how you fill in the blanks, it will be fine.” Everything had changed again, for the third time in just a few days, I had a life again. “it’s a happy story then? I said.” “I said the ending would be happy, I didn’t say the whole story would be. There will be darker days and nights in your future than you’re going through right now, but you’ll get through, I’ll be there when you need me.” Darker than things were now? I hoped not but knew He was never wrong. “I have a job for you,” He said. “I want you to deliver a message.”  “Ok, to who?” “To everybody. I want you to tell everyone you can that I’m not here to keep scores, I’m not here to trip them up and get in their way. My purpose isn’t to cause people to stumble, its go get you home. People always want to think I’m mad, I’m not.” “Because the price was paid” I added. “Yes” He said, “that was a bad day for me but a necessary day.” “Tell people that you’re not mad” I said, that’s simple. “Yes, it’s simple, but not easy” He said, “but yes, that’s what I want you to do.” “For now” He said, “you get some sleep, tomorrow is a new day and a new beginning.” “You’re leaving?” I asked. “I’ll never leave, I’ll be around when you need me.”  He walked toward the door, then added “I have a very competent staff, and I make free house calls.” Then the unforgettable laugh gain. All was right with the world. The birds exploded into a chorus in response, they felt what I felt. He walked out the door, I had a nice nap. The next day I ate well, made the decision that I would walk again. In 3 days I was walking the halls and wanting to go home. They said I couldn’t go home, there was more to do. They were, in fact, not doing anything. I finally figured out a way to bust out of there, I told them I didn’t have any insurance. They discharged me the next day. In one month I was back to work with a promotion. I taught myself to walk and talk again, how to use a hand I can’t feel, how to type and tie shoes.  Now, when I have bad days or bad moods, I notice puppies or butterflies or a gentle wind in the trees and am reminded that all is under control. Yes, it was a dream. You can believe I had it or not, as you choose. You can believe it was God speaking or not, as you choose. I could offer proof but if you don’t believe now you won’t believe then but try finding a bunch of puppies and flop down among them. Feel the feeling. You will experience in a very small way, God’s laugh.
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