I’m an unusually happy person. I’m an optimist by nature, so it might surprise you when I say in regard to the new year with new beginnings and new possibilities, “Don’t get your hopes up.”
This is coming from a person who nearly always has her hopes up. I’m married to a pessimist, who constantly worries about me being let down, in everything from life’s big dreams to my new casserole recipe. In the midst of all that goes wrong in life, I’m always digging for the nuggets of good.
I was in my early thirties, however, when I began realizing there had been a slight shift in how I viewed the world. Normally, I was on the band wagon of high hopes for a new year. I celebrated the first day of the new year with gusto, imagining all the possibilities that were ahead, currently just out of my reach, but surely soon to be in my grasp.
Yet in every year, there was something that caught me off guard—bad medical news, a death, an accident, a financially crushing circumstance. The list went on. And each year, my hopes were crushed by whatever went wrong. I realized, slowly but surely, that something always went wrong. Surely there would be a year when all went right! But in my young adulthood, it was becoming readily clear that so far, I hadn’t come upon a year that was willing to deliver all good things.
With that shift came a dread that slowly seeped into my life as well. With each turning of the new year, I felt myself at first simply unmoved and unexcited about the things to come. Then, without notice, I realized that in the place of hope and excitement, fear and dread had burrowed into my outlook.
As I began to examine this, I realized that it was an unhealthy place to be. Yet I didn’t really know how to get myself out of it. I simply shrugged at even the thought. “What does it matter how I look at it or don’t? Whatever will happen will happen.”
The older one gets in life, the more one realizes how little control we all have. As a person of faith in Jesus, this seems to be His very point, made over and over. He offers a lot of comfort regarding this truth, that we can cast our cares upon Him, that He has overcome the world, but the fact is, life is difficult.
I was agreeing with all of that, yet was ignoring so much of His other commandments, namely walking by faith and not by sight. I’d resigned myself to thinking that there was nothing I could do but accept what was unchangeable, to accept my lot in life.
All of these things had been weighing on my mind for awhile when the new year began last year—2013. I gave little thought to the rolling of the calendar, but in the back of my mind I wondered what would happen in this year? Something always happens.
It was Superbowl Sunday when I was preparing some appetizers for a party we were attending. I was happily in my kitchen, putting to good use all those Pinterest pins I’d been acquiring over the few weeks. I was excited to use my new immersion blender I’d gotten for Christmas. As usual, I was running late and trying to get all my appetizers to finish at the same time.
In the midst of not paying attention to what I was doing, I stuck my finger into my blender while it was off in order to scrape a small piece of food that had gotten stuck.
The problem was, this blender was different. Instead of an on/off switch at the top, you squeezed the stick/handle in order to turn it on.
It took a half a second to realize the blender had turned on and my finger was in it. I grabbed a dishtowel and screamed for my husband, who was napping on the couch. We drove to the ER, just a couple of miles away, as I held my hand in the dishtowel. The pain was difficult.
Once there, a triage nurse took me back to a room. I guess, like all nurses, she could sense the fear in my eyes and she said, “You’re going to have to take that towel off.”
“But I’m afraid my finger’s not there anymore.”
“We’re just going to have to see. I’m going to run some cold water in this sink and you’re going to put your hand under it. And if the finger for some reason falls off, I’ve got it.”
It was such a surreal conversation that I started laughing through the tears. She assured me it was all going to be OK.
She turned the water on and I held my hand under it, unable to look. “What’s happening? Is it still there?”
“It’s still there,” she said. “But it’s a mess.”
Once the ER surgeon saw me, he said that it was pretty much amputated, hanging on by a thread, but that the bone was intact, which was the good news. He spent at least an hour trying to deaden the thing, which was both hurting and numb. After several nerve blocks and me still able to feel the needle, he said he didn’t know what else to do.
“Go ahead and sew it up,” I sighed. “Pain’s all relative, right?”
So on one half of my finger, I could feel ever poke of the needle as he tried to sew my finger back. “It’s so shredded,” he said. “I don’t think I have enough skin.” But the good news, he said, was that he studied in residency under a hand surgeon so he was pretty sure he had a shot of getting it put back on.
My poor husband has a weak stomach when it comes to blood and his wife’s kitchen injuries. He had to sit outside.
So the doctor and I sat in my ER room, both watching the Superbowl on the big fancy flat screen TV they’d put up in each ER room. He’d sew for awhile, then watch the game for a couple of minutes while we both rested, and then go back to it.
“At least,” I thought to myself, “I got the bad thing out of the way at the first of the year.”
Three or so hours later, I was sent home with an appointment to see the hand surgeon the next day, to find out the fate of what would happen to this finger. It was not, unfortunately, my first kitchen accident. I’ve only had two accidents in my life in the kitchen and they were both fairly catastrophic. About seven years before, a knife slipped and went through my hand, severing the radial nerve to my pinky. I was put into emergency surgery to try to save the function of my hand through microsurgery and it had thankfully worked.
(I'll spare you the other photos, but this is what my hand looked like right after coming home from the ER)
Again, regarding my hand, I was facing an unsure future. As a writer, my hands are like a window from my soul onto the page. It is hard to describe, but they are my tools. There is a flow to typing, a way I do it, sort of like playing music. Someone suggested that I use Dragon Dictate, but it was not an option for me. I couldn’t speak my novels. They had to be written through my hands.
Once I got to the hand surgeon, there was good news. The ER doctor had done a fabulous job and he didn’t feel any more surgery was needed. However, the focus would now be on my nerves. Their regrowth potential was uncertain and the amount of pain I would face was uncertain too. “Absolutely no typing,” he said. “For four weeks.”
I felt so defeated. It was like a bad dream. And there was no way I could take four weeks off. I’d fall too behind on everything I was working on. So after the major bandages came off, I taught myself to type with nine fingers. It was daunting at first, but I was surprised by how fast my fingers began to comply. Within a matter of days, I was typing with nine fingers at a fairly good pace.
Over the next several months, I battled the nerve pain. Cold weather wreaked havoc. Touch returned slowly, but not everywhere. I came to the realization pretty fast that the finger would never be the same.
I made my way through scouting locations for the film SKID, where our team visited multiple locations looking for planes and places to shoot. It was cold and my finger constantly ached, turning dead white at the hint of any kind of frigid temperature. No matter how much I wrapped it, it hurt.
My spirits were lifted, though, when we began filming SKID. The days were so busy and packed with such fun and excitement that I managed my way through without too much involvement with the finger. On the cold days, I was reminded it was there, but mostly, it was in the back of my mind.
After SKID wrapped, I found myself calming down a little bit about the hand. It was what it was. I could type with it, though it felt like a little electrical jolt went through it every time I tapped the letter “T”. Still, I realized that perhaps the worst was past me. I had a whole other part of the year to celebrate, including a wrapped film that had fulfilled one of my biggest dreams.
Then May 20th arrived. It was an ordinary day, filled with a lot of work and too little time. By the afternoon, my town would be turned upside down. An F5 tornado would devastate Moore, OK and kill 24 people including 7 children, whose school was less than two miles from my own kids’ school. How could I have even imagined that I’d step out of my front door that day and face down a killer twister?
So every year holds surprises. But I am learning to listen to God about these truths. I have learned to set my expectations not low, not high, but on Him. I’ve had friends this year diagnosed with cancer, lose parents, face financial devastation and more. In my own life, there have been days of extreme delight followed closely by days of extreme sadness.
The world will tell us to set our sights on all things positive, to will yourself to a better life. But it becomes nonsense when you begin to realize how little control we really have. We humans are so vulnerable. What can a mere human do against an F5 tornado?
I was faced with that question when I realized I didn’t have time to go get my children the day of the tornado. The twister was headed straight for them and I could do nothing but pray. I vividly remember being in the storm shelter of my neighbor, afraid I had seen my children for the last time, angry at myself for not having moved fast enough to get to the school. And I felt the Holy Spirit say, And what are you against a tornado? What can you do?
It was true. Even if I’d been there, what could I have done to save any of us?
I’ve taken on that attitude toward my life as well. I’m a clumsy human prone to kitchen accidents. I’m a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. I’m a sinner incapable of pure motives in anything I do.
Sounds hopeless enough.
Yet the truth of the matter is that I rise everyday with hope. And I realize I can get out of bed with hope because it’s not my own hope. If I were left to my own devices, I’m not sure I could even go out the front door. I certainly can’t even make a basic appetizer for a party.
The world is so frightening. So much can go wrong. So much does go wrong. And even a front door can’t protect me from disease, from heartbreak. Nothing can. Life is one big risk.
Yet the Bible reminds us, “We will be glad and rejoice in Thee.” I ran across the following devotional by Charles Spurgeon a few days after the first of the year, and I thought it was an appropriate banner for me to carry into 2014. They key to grasping what Spurgeon is saying is knowing the One in whom we should rejoice. Without that relationship, mustering up joy like the kind described below is nothing more than fanfare and is virtually impossible anyway.
Press into Jesus this year. Get to know Him better than you know Him now. Seek Him. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Read about Him. I hope the text below helps you renew your hope and celebrate all the good that comes with that relationship. How often we overlook it when we’re faced with the bad, but find out what goodness the Lord offers us in this uncertain world. Make it your resolution this year.
“We will be glad and rejoice in thee. We will not open the gates of the year to the dolorous notes of the sackbut, but to the sweet strains of the harp of joy, and the high sounding cymbals of gladness. O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation. We, the called and faithful and chosen, we will drive away our griefs, and set up our banners of confidence in the name of God. Let others lament over their troubles, we who have the sweetening tree to cast into Marah's bitter pool, with joy will magnify the Lord. Eternal Spirit, our effectual Comforter, we who are the temples in which thou dwellest, will never cease from adoring and blessing the name of Jesus. We WILL, we are resolved about it, Jesus must have the crown of our heart's delight; we will not dishonour our Bridegroom by mourning in his presence. We are ordained to be the minstrels of the skies, let us rehearse our everlasting anthem before we sing it in the halls of the New Jerusalem. We will BE GLAD AND REJOICE: two words with one sense, double joy, blessedness upon blessedness. Need there be any limit to our rejoicing in the Lord even now? Do not men of grace find their Lord to be camphire and spikenard, calamus and cinnamon even now, and what better fragrance have they in heaven itself? We will be glad and rejoice IN THEE. That last word is the meat in the dish, the kernel of the nut, the soul of the text. What heavens are laid up in Jesus! What rivers of infinite bliss have their source, aye, and every drop of their fulness in him! Since, O sweet Lord Jesus, thou art the present portion of thy people, favour us this year with such a sense of thy preciousness, that from its first to its last day we may be glad and rejoice in thee. Let January open with joy in the Lord, and December close with gladness in Jesus.”
Have a happy and joyful 2014,