I have no authority to confer awards, but I’d like to give one today.
As I look back over 2012 and all that we wrote and received at Internet Monk, one particular post stands out. I, Chaplain Mike, did not write it. Nor did our gifted Abbott, Jeff Dunn. It was not produced by Martha, Lisa, Damaris, Craig, or any of the other talented writers we regularly employ to explore various topics. It was not written about a controversial topic, nor did it garner a large number of comments.
I simply found this post to be the most unique, insightful, and moving post I read all year, on this or any other website.
The post of which I speak was contributed by one of our regular readers and commenters. Her name is Beky, and on the internet she goes by the handle Tokah (or Tokah Fang).
Let me give a little background.
In May of 2011, I did a short series called, “Ask Chaplain Mike,” in which I gave readers a chance to submit questions that I would answer in public posts for the benefit of our readership. I was not prepared for one of the first questions I received. It came from Tokah. She wrote:
As a hospice chaplain, I’m sure you’ve gotten a question like this before. I think it also ties into the notion of vocation, so I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
A neurological illness somewhat less severe than ALS, but of the same kind, has ravaged my spinal cord, leaving me living life in a powerchair as I lose more ability every day. It has of course been challenging, but I have always had something I could do in response. I have relearned the most basic tasks in dozens of different ways, always regaining a good measure of independence. Traditionally I have started by studying what my elders in the field of disability of accomplished, what tools they used, what equipment and techniques were available, then putting in long hours of practice until I could manage the same. Living with a disability is something that one can be good at, and I have come to be that, as well as being capable of teaching what I know to new people who join the club.
About two years ago, the disease attacking my spine meandered out to have a go at my vagus nerve. In simplest explanation, the combination of progressive motor disability and damage to the nerves controlling my digestive system is slowly starving me. In Paul’s words, “the outer man is wasting away”, although I can attest that even in this, the inner man is indeed being renewed day by day! I am dying, though undramatically and not so fast I’m ready for my own hospice chaplain just yet. I became aware of the situation last fall, and the lack of options in my complicated situation this past winter.
Having had time to get past many of the emotional ramifications, I’m currently stuck at this one, where I finally get to my question: how do I be good at dying? I am confident in the assurance that Jesus won’t suddenly love me less for being cognitively impaired or less capable of outer piety, but I’d still like to run this section of the race well. What does that look like? I feel like I’m wasting precious time, but with my body and mind failing I can’t see any alternative. When you have six months or a year or two years to live, but such little capacity, what do you do in the meantime besides trying not to burden your family more than necessary?
Wow. What a question: “How do I be good at dying?” With fear and trembling, I gave her what counsel I could and wished her well. How pleased and surprised I was to find out later that an incredible wonder had taken place. Tokah wrote to tell me that she had received a medically inexplicable healing, which almost completely reversed the permanent damage her disease had caused. The underlying condition was still present, but its rate of progression was greatly slowed, giving her the happy prospect of many years of life to come. She wrote me and said, “So I’m praising the Lord and seizing the day.”
During her illness, Tokah had begun counseling a similarly afflicted woman who lives near me, and one thing she decided to do with her improved health situation was to drive to Indianapolis for a visit with this friend. So we made arrangements and Gail and I met with her in November 2011 for a couple hours of wonderful fellowship. I was impressed with her friendliness, good sense of humor, and the courage and determination with which she made a demanding journey to bring some grace and warmth to a friend in need.
Throughout 2012, Tokah has continued to be a regular reader and commenter here on Internet Monk, and her contributions from the perspective of one who has become part of an Eastern Orthodox congregation have been helpful and encouraging.
During my sabbatical month in November, Jeff did a series based on Tim Stafford’s book Miracles that gave readers a chance to talk about our perspectives on the signs and wonders that God does in this world. How pleased I was to see that Tokah had given a contribution!
And oh, what a contribution it was. She wrote about the question, “What Happens After the Miracle?” As Jeff wrote in his introduction to it, “I had honestly never thought of this side of the miraculous before.” Everyone I talked to about the article said the same thing. Tokah described a “post-miracle wilderness” that few of us knew existed. “Walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8) gave way to long-term challenges of how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings and the fact that others don’t know how to relate to someone who has undergone such a dramatic change. As she found, “You will be a square peg in a round hole for a very long time, always a bit of a freak. There is a serious risk of being treated as the boy who cried wolf. Even the very Christians who have prayed for you faithfully often are not sure what to make of you now.”
A friend of mine who had a similar experience actually told me, “I have felt God’s hand has been against me every since ‘saving’ me and there have been many times I wish He had not.”
It does not get any more honest or “real” than that, folks.
And that is why I am here to say that the post of the year on Internet Monk in 2012 was Tokah’s “What Happens After the Miracle.”
Follow the link and read it again. And again. And again.
Tokah, I wish I had something tangible to give you to acknowledge your invaluable contribution. But then, I think God has given you the greatest gift of all. No, not your healing, as wonderful as that is. The gift of wisdom. Thanks for sharing it with us.