September 2, 2014

2012 Post of the Year

Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, Poussin

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.”

Peter and John healing the lame man. Hatherell

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.

Comments

  1. I just crawled into bed and read this on my Android and was like “Wow!! I’ve got to comment!” :-) It’s about Beky!! So I sprint out of bed and race to the computer!

    There are a lot people who visited me in the hospital. I remain grateful to so many when I was in the hospital and had co-workers, friends, a couple of people from past churches I was in, and people from Wartburg and Internet Monk all pop in and say “Hi”. One of the people I met during that ordeal was Beky.

    When I was in the hospital I can say this…when it rained it poured. I had stretches and then all of a sudden 2 or 3 people would come around the same time. It was like that with Beky…. when we were talking a couple of people I knew came and visited and I was trying to talk to all people and give everyone attention – which was challenging when you’re medicated! :-P

    Beky I have to tell you this. You’re visiting me in the INOVA Fairfax really warmed my heart. You were one of so many people that I was privileged to speak to. You have a heart of gold and I appreciated the time you took in driving up to visit me. We both know how bad congestion can be on the 95 corridor. However, I am grateful to have met you and thank you for the love and grace you have shown me. With some of the things I had said about Christianity on this blog I don’t deserve some of the grace I have been shown. That’s one of the things I love about this blog it is very grace filled and exploding in love.

    Beky thank you for visiting me. One of these days I need to get your crutches back to you. I have them at home in my condo and when I see them I keep telling myself…”I need to get these back to her”. Let me know what works best and I’ll get them back to you.

    Oh…and Beky…you rock!! :-D

    • I’m currently in a “can drive” state, but our second car is dead for the winter at least, so when would be a harder question. My upper body is actually weaker than my lower body, so I can’t actually use crutches right now. I’d be happy for you to just keep them safe for me until I can get them sometime. (Unless you want to visit sometime in your own trip down the corridor, in which case Chap has my contact info.)

      It was a joy to visit you, Eagle, no trouble at all. Words on the internet are cheap, I was happy to be part of a movement to put some flesh behind them.

      • Beky…maybe that’s what I’ll do…sometime this spring I can drive down to Richmond. Or I can mail them back. But I’d be happy to drive down there sometime over the next couple of months and return the favor.

        • If you are going to be in Richmond, I would love to drive the three hours to meet you both!

  2. CM- I’d love it if you could resume the “Ask Chaplin Mike” series at some point. You probably have a ton of questions that people emailed you. But I’d love to hear your take on so many topics. ;-)

  3. That WAS a beautiful piece of writing, Tokah! Thanks for calling our attention to it, Chaplain Mike. I wish you continued good health, Tokah, and I always love reading what you have written. Thanks for taking the time to share your life with us all.

  4. Thank you for reminding me of this article. I understand the post miracle wilderness, and I am currently dealing with anger and other emotions as I am not able to articulate what happened and what is happening to those who have not experienced it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I would like to see a Post-Miracle/Post-Conversion Wildnerness novel from someone. Starting where the usual Christianese story ends. Of course, you’d have to go mainstream; no Christian(TM) publisher would touch it.

      • How about a fictional treatment of the struggles and travails of Lazarus after Jesus had restored his life? I can imagine there were times when Lazarus wished Jesus had left in the tomb, and struggled in a wilderness of ambiguity precisely because he had died once and would have to die again. If I remember correctly, in Kazantzakis “Last Temptation of Christ,” the religious authorities plan to have Lazarus assassinated after his resuscitation because they consider his restored life to be a public relations threat to their own religious hegemony, attracting people to Jesus and away from them.

        And Happy C.E. New Year, everyone!

  5. Amen! :-)

    And of course, continuing good wishes to Eagle and hoping he is keeping well, and the good tidings of the rest of Chrismastide as we approach Epiphany to all the rest of the iMonastery.

  6. Tokah, I marvel at your emotional & spiritual maturity… your wisdom… It sounds to me like you took the bull by the horns:
    “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.”

    That is so remarkable to me! Where did your strength come from? I am embarrassed to say I am chicken little when it comes to facing my own struggles with health problems that are starting to bloom due to growing older…fear just nags at me. I too enjoy reading your comments & thought long & hard about this post. Thank-You for sharing your story with us.

    My husband has a chronic illness, he was 5’11″ when we married 25 years ago today he is 5’1″. The complications of A.S. and R.A. have filled his years with much suffering, many surgeries along with fall out from the steroids and other meds. He is a gentle giant… Always living with hope & dignity…

    • Growing up able bodied seems to give people expectations of what they are capable of accomplishing and how hard those things are going to be. Then it grants a certain experience of life. For people in that situation there is an extra grief, the loss of what one has tasted.

      My symptoms became noted when I just 14. I hadn’t really progressed past the “what do I want to be when I grow up?” stage. I didn’t lose an able bodied life, as I never had one to lose. I was instilled with the certain knowledge that I would have to fight tooth and claw to accomplish things and some of those fights would be lost. I had a clock ticking in my head, reminding me of a universal truth: our current abilities are only here for a limited duration. I couldn’t even remember what not being in pain was like, so I didn’t miss it as much as most would.

      It is a different perspective, a different journey than someone who grew up able bodied. My success is not all that impressive if you compare me to others with congenital disabilities instead of suddenly-sick adults. Like anyone, we simply worked to master life activities with the abilities we had to work with and the vigor of youth. For some of us that meant reading print to get educated, some learned braille.

    • Gail ~ Ankylosing Spondylitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis? I was just diagnosed 5 months ago. I am 43. Most definitely unchartered territory. Would love to dialogue.

  7. “My success is not all that impressive if you compare me to others with congenital disabilities instead of suddenly-sick adults”

    I only have my lens, so my perspective is limited. So you can take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. Imho you are remarkable, your courage & can do it attitude humbles & inspires me. Blessings to you!

  8. Tokah, this is for you. If I prayed for people you’d get my vote. I don’t because prayer seems like a way to dodge the issue; “I did my bit, up to you, god”. If you knew why, you wouldn’t need to learn why. It’s tough and I don’t have answers but I feel for you. If nothing else, I hope you will be able to feel some peace and calm that is for you to enjoy for the moment when you can.