Today we had a setback.
Last night the nurse told me that the respiratory physician was ready to remove Trish's ventilator. Early this morning, her neurologist affirmed his decision. So as I drove to the hospital, I prepared for the experience of hearing Trish speak after two weeks of silence.
It didn't happen this morning, but when I went back to the hospital at 4:00 I discovered they had taken her ventilator out. As I went into the room, Trish was sitting halfway up on her bed. She was raised to a semi-sitting position. She looked good but she was anxious. Her blood pressure was elevated because she was working so hard to breathe. The nurse asked me to leave the room for an hour. They would decide if she would be able to stay off the ventilator.
Trish was able to say a quick "I love you" in a very gruff and battered voice and I left the room.
After half an hour, the nurse came to the waiting room. She told me that they had decided to put Trish back on the ventilator. Trish was having a difficult time both with breathing and swallowing. The natural secretions that most of us take for granted as we swallow them every few minutes, had no place to go. Trish was in danger of the secretions getting into her lungs.
Tomorrow or the next day, the doctors will either try again to remove Trish's ventilator or they will do a tracheotomy. This is a procedure in which a hole is made in the patient's lower neck to allow him or her to breathe. The doctors don't want to leave the ventilator in much longer. They fear of infection, pneumonia or other complications. With a tracheotomy, Trish will be able to begin physical therapy. Perhaps she may even get up to walk in a few days. However, a tracheotomy will mean that she will have a much longer recovery, at least in terms of breathing naturally through her mouth and nose.
I am hurt and discouraged by this news. I have been reminding myself to cheer up. I tell myself that just a few days ago, Trish's life was in danger. I should be with her delighted progress. After all, the nurse also told me that she had been able to talk to Trish while she was off the ventilator. The nurse said that Trish had used words correctly and constructed sentences normally. Trish was also aware of the month and year, something she could not seem to remember just two days ago. So she is making progress -- good progress. evidently, she has not suffered major cognitive damage. All of this is good -- very good. And yet, tonight I am discouraged.
The proverbs tell us that "a hope deferred makes the heart sick." How many things we hope for in life do not happen as we had wished! We always have occasions to lose heart. Things in real life do not usually match the way our imagination anticipates them. This is one of life's most important lessons, learning to press on through our deferred hopes. No one's spirit can endure long enough to achieve any truly important cause if he or she does not learn how to deal with hopes that get deferred.
For nearly a generation, American Evangelicals have been taught that real faith consists in never taking "no" for an answer. We have been promised that if we only believe we will always achieve, that if we persist we will inevitably obtain. So we have very little patience with deferred hopes. And yet the writer of the Hebrews tells us that many of the great men and women of God "all died having not obtained the promises and yet they nonetheless obtained God's favor because they continued to believe that He was faithful who had promised." Surely some of these heroes of faith experienced the sickness of heart that comes from deferred hopes. Evidently, they learned how to move through this kind of "sickness." They must have learned what that great philosopher and theologian, Dolly Parton, once said a few years ago: "a broken heart won't really kill you unless you let it."
How often I have comforted people in the hospital when they experienced setbacks like the one we experienced today. How often I have smiled and assured people, "this is nothing, really. Things are fine. This is the way healing works; its three steps forward and one step back. Don't lose heart." People are saying those same things to me today. They are right. I should listen tot them. But tonight my heart won't stay soothed. I keep feeling waves of sadness that just won't go away.
Some fears rose up in my heart today. "What if she won't ever be able to breathe on her own? What if I don't have the financial resources required to get her the kind of therapy she will need? What if she goes through the rest of life without a voice? What if, what if ...?"
All of these are unreasonable fears at this point. Trish is actually doing quite well, considering the trauma she has walked through these past two weeks. The sorrow I am feeling tonight is much greater than the situation calls for. It is quite likely that tomorrow I won't feel this anxiety. But I do feel it tonight.
I said goodbye to my parents and my sister tonight. In the morning, they are returning home. They came to stay with us through the worse days, the most dangerous ones and these are now past. They are leaving because things are much improved. Still, the goodbye was hard. I think it is because I almost had to say the great goodbye to Trish last week. Understandably, my feelings are a bit fragile.
I am also impatient. My Pentecostal upbringing makes me think of real healing as "he straightway got upon his feet, leaping and praising God in a loud voice." So I wanted for Trish to speak today so that tomorrow she could walk and the next day she could go home and have a cup of tea with me. In my imagination, Sunday might be the day she could give her testimony while we all wept and shouted for joy. It doesn't look like God wanted to cooperate with my imagination.
Its not the first time!
Last week, our Hopi pastor, Elmer Myron, wrote me the words of a Hopi song: "Ihiksi Kwakwhat an Hinumni" ( My spirit will rest and be at peace in you.) He translated a line from one of the verses, "Even though the evil one will try me; happiness/joy will prevail." Am I up to this? Can happiness/joy prevail in my heart even when things don't work out as I wish or as quickly as I hope? Our Native American friends are better at this, I think. Maybe this is a time I can learn from them.
Deferred hopes are unavoidable, in our current crisis and in life. We all must live with dreams that never quite materialize. We all have plans that never get off the ground. If we build our faith in God on the notion that if we serve Him the right way and know the right things to say, we will always get exactly what we want when we want it, our "faith" will not survive. Faith is not a sprint; it is a marathon. It is "he that endures to the end" that will be saved. Endurance is, among other things, about surviving deferred hopes.
In the past few years, Trish and I have had many opportunities to deal with deferred hopes. Some of these have been extremely difficult to accept without bitterness. Some of our friendships did not turn out as we wished. I never got great books published like I had believed would happen. Trish didn't get her job as a therapist at some prestigious clinic.
The years have gone by as we have struggled to keep a church going for people who didn't have a lot of money and who were often not welcome other places. And yet, in all of this, we have never lost hope that God would somehow use us in the way he wanted. In retrospect, had all the early hopes I carried in my early years materialized, I would probably be a one dimensional person, without depth and without any real meaning. Our marriage would probably not exist. I would very likely be a cynical, lonely and cold person. Instead, I am sitting here tonight pouring out my heart to hundreds of friends who have been listening with great concern and with wonderful compassion.
I am missing my wife because I really love, admire and need her. I have been able to walk this path surrounded by the comfort of people who obviously love us and who have been showing us this love in tangible ways. And isn't this what we wanted? Here is am writing things that are actually being read. Trish's life and ministry is flowing out and touching people in profound ways. We have experienced a genuine oneness of heart in our marriage. We have no doubt about the meaning of life.
We have discovered our life's meaning -- we know that our lives have a purpose and lasting worth -- all because we have been learning for the last many years to deal with our deferred hopes. So yes, deferred hopes do make our hearts sick. But, over time, how we deal with those deferred hopes seem to have the power to make our souls well.
"The word of the Lord tested Joseph until the day appointed for his vision to come to pass," the Psalm says.
I wonder if Joseph experienced any nights of despair in that prison? Surely he must have! Somehow though, he learned how to make his despair temporary and his hopes permanent. That's how he finally come to fill the place that God had been preparing for him to fill all along.
Tonight, that's a comforting thought!