I have replayed the day of the stroke time and again, recounting each detail: an afternoon spent at our local Chick-Fil-A working on a ministry letter that was hard and painful to compose, more confrontational than I preferred but necessary and written out of conviction; sweet, easy conversations with the restaurant workers who knew me and my family well after countless weekly visits over the years; home again for dinner with Layne and the kids; the normal bedtime routine—pjs, teeth brushed, storytime; then I sat down to feed Noah, the newest addition to the family, just a few days shy of three months old.
The pregnancy had been difficult from the first—migraines, nausea, hypertension. The onset of preeclampsia meant Noah had to arrive in the world six weeks early. He spent the first two weeks of life in NICU, then he was home with us at last. And after the difficult and at times frightening journey we went through to have him there, I enjoyed nothing more than to spend my evenings, once all of the kids were in bed, just sitting quietly with him, whispering to him softly just before he drifted off. That night, my words to him were more of a prayer than anything. I remember telling him a bit lightheartedly about the chaos that came with being part of such a large family. In truth, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed that particular day, and as I spoke to Noah, I was asking the Lord for continued strength and ever deepening patience, essentials for being the mother I desired to be for him and the others.
That little conversation with the baby stands out most in my mind from that day. I have heard others who have gone through difficult or tragic circumstances—the death of a loved one or a severe accident—describe how they would almost compulsively relive the events leading up to that life-altering moment. Now I understand why. For me, it serves as an anchor, a fixed moment in time, the last memories I have of who I was and of what life was like before the stroke changed everything. It brings a nostalgic kind of comfort, and so I recall.
That night Layne was up playing a game with our teenage sons, and I was exhausted. I said goodnight to them, made myself a cup of my favorite mint tea, and decided to forgo any television or reading in favor of rest. As I laid down to sleep, I remember feeling emotionally drained but also thankful and at peace. Around one o’clock that morning I was awoken by a splitting headache. At first, I thought I would just try to go back to sleep, but the pain was too severe. I realized that without pain meds I would not be getting anymore rest that night, so I decided to make my way to the bathroom.
I placed my left foot on the floor beside the bed and tried to roll over to a standing position. My foot immediately slipped out from under me, and I fell back onto the bed. That was strange. I tried once more with the same results. How can carpet be this slippery? I thought perhaps holding onto my side table would help me prop myself up enough that my feet would stay put, so I grabbed on with both hands and lifted myself with my arms. My legs buckled, unable to support any weight, and my upper body slammed down hard onto the table. Layne called to me from his side of the bed to ask what I was doing. I need to go to the bathroom. Please help me. He came over and lifted me back onto the bed. I tried to explain that my head hurt and the carpet was making it difficult to stand. All I needed was a little help getting up.
The next thing I knew he had the phone in his hand and was frantically communicating with someone on the other end that he needed an ambulance. An ambulance? I just want to make it to the bathroom. Why would he call for an ambulance? Then I heard him say I was having a stroke. No, I only have a headache. This is a gross overreaction to a simple headache. Why won’t he help me stand? Layne ran out of the room and down the hall to the boys’ room, calling back to me that I must stay in bed and not try to get up. But I need some medicine, and now I really have to use the restroom. I decided to try one more time to stand. I sat up and placed my feet over the side of the bed. In one quick, fluid motion I was almost up, but then instantly went crashing to the floor, painfully landing first on my shoulder, then on my face. Okay, so maybe I should listen.
Layne hoisted me once again onto the bed and hurriedly began giving instructions to the boys about how to care for the baby and the rest of the kids if no one was home by the time they awoke in the morning. In what seemed like only a matter of moments, an EMT was standing beside me, asking questions I struggled to answer. His line of questioning told me that he also believed I was having a stroke. It was hard for me to comprehend. Apart from the headache, I felt fine, cognizant of what was going on around me (or so I thought), and not confused in the slightest. Four years earlier, I had experienced a mini-stroke (TIA) that left me extremely disoriented, unable to speak or move, and in a dreamlike state for a stretch of time. This was nothing like that, so how could it be an actual stroke?
Once in the ambulance, the EMT asked me which hospital I preferred and began to list my many options. I noticed his wedding ring and asked, “If it was your wife having a stroke, where would you take her?” Without any hesitation he answered emphatically, so I asked him to take me to the one he had named. See, I can still reason and make informed choices. This can’t be that bad. It was not until I arrived in the ER, saw the hurried responses and looks of concern from the nurses all around me, spoke to the neurologist about the life and death choices I would need to make within moments of arriving, and heard him discussing living wills and power of attorney with my husband that it finally hit me: I’m in real trouble.
I had been talking with God the whole way to the hospital, thanking him for always sustaining me through all of my pregnancies, through back surgery, through the TIA, and just acknowledging that I knew he was with me through this. But in that moment, as I finally understood just how serious my situation actually was, I began to plead with the Lord as never before: Please, Father, I have tried to spend my time as a mom speaking truth over my children, but I don’t know if I have done enough to carry them through a world and a culture that tells so many lies. Please, give me more time to care for them.
At once, I felt the Spirit fall in my hospital room, and I heard the voice of the Lord say, “You will not die; you shall surely live. You have not yet completed all of the good works which I prepared in advance for you to do.” Then Psalm 23 began ringing in my ears: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…” Over and over the Spirit repeated it to me until I was unaware of anything else happening around me. My terrible headache abated. My soul was at perfect peace, and I knew the Lord was with me. There was nothing to fear.
“I shall surely live and proclaim what the LORD has done.” (Psalm 118:17)