I was wearing a green dress and eating Cheetos in my dad's blue armchair. It was 3pm. The phone rang.
My mom answered and listened to the voice on the other end, then hung up. "Katherine's going to the hospital. Looks like she has some strange food poisoning."
The following hours would reveal that Katherine definitely did not have food poisoning. She was instead having a massive stroke. My brother Jay made that panicked phone call from his car while following Katherine's ambulance down the Pacific Coast Highway and into a strange new life.
The news of Katherine's stroke sunk into our brains as the sun sunk into the horizon that night of April 21, 2008. A group of men in dark suits materialized in the middle of our living room and practically held my dad up as they pleaded with Heaven to spare our beloved Katherine. A stream of friends poured in and out of our home all evening to pray and cry and feed us.
One friend even slept on our couch that night. I remember thinking how strange it was to see this church lady, perpetually primped and put together, in a sweatshirt.
My dad caught a redeye from Alabama to Los Angeles to help carry his firstborn son through this unfolding nightmare.
We picked at a tray of deli sandwiches and went on a walk and watched the Home Shopping Network because how else do you fill the time until a sixteen-hour brain surgery ends? When the hour was appropriate, we called my sister Sarah across the world in Ethiopia and started her day with the worst news possible. Then we bought her plane ticket to come home.
None of us could have imagined the sea of trouble we'd waded into that day. As the sun rose on April 22nd, the phone rang.
With those two words, hope showed up.
I've always been ashamed to admit it, but I couldn't go past the doorway the first time I visited Katherine's room in Intensive Care two days after her surgery. The tangle of swollen limbs and wires and roving blue eyes sprawled on the hospital bed could not be the beautiful, bright sister I'd known since I was eight. I willed myself to travel the five feet to her bedside, but the stomach-churning scene rendered my legs useless.
I went into the hallway. My sister Mary had to sit on the floor and put her head between her knees.
This is not the story Katherine is supposed to have.
Yes, she was alive and yes, we had hope. But this hope wasn't pretty or shiny like I thought it was supposed to be. This hope was gritty, desperate, and difficult.
Hanging-on-by-a-thread days slowly turned into stable weeks, which morphed into learning-to-walk-talk-and-swallow months. Katherine was soon dubbed the "slow motion miracle", but a lot of those early days didn't feel so miraculous.
We are now in the still-healing years of Katherine and Jay's story, one that began with the pen strokes of tangled nerves in an unborn baby's brain. What a strange way to begin a love story. But, as he so often does, our Author of Life used the unlovely details and plot points and characters to weave an unlikely gospel allegory.
Life where there was death. Beauty where there were ashes. Dancing where there was crying.
Jay and Katherine have become master storytellers and grace-filled characters, championing the truth that we are all stewards of our God-given stories. We may not get to write our stories, but we can trust the One who does.
We must surrender the story we think we deserve for the story we actually got. Jesus is a much better writer than I am, anyway.
The book of Psalms carries a running motif of proclaiming God's good works to the world: I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done... Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done... I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people... I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD.
We are formed in the image of God, the master storyteller. It logically follows (and Scripture corroborates) that we are made to mimic our Maker, to declare His story and our story to the universe. May we never mistake a difficult chapter for a defeat, or death for a final page.
We owe this to one another: daily preach the good stories to your brothers and sisters. Tell the hope-giving stories to the world in whatever way you know how.
Jay and Katherine have recently written a book, every word of which was borne of blood and hardship and pain. I cannot emphasize how much you – and our hurting world – need this book because in this life we will all have our own April 21, 2008. But the message of Hope Heals is this: April 22nd is coming. Take heart because life follows death.
ORDER HERE TODAY: HopeHealsBook.com
(The photos in this post are a cobbled-together album of moments from the days and weeks after Katherine's stroke. They're not exactly professional quality, but they tell more of a story than any photos I've ever taken.)