Surrender, Worship and Brain Surgery- How God Saved My Life!!
I never thought I would ever experience pain to such a degree that it would cause me to despair of life, but that's exactly what happened starting Memorial Day weekend of 2020. For those who read beyond the year 2021, it was also the time of COVID-19. My youngest and I were "stuck at home" - me working remotely, trying to run a nonprofit organization and him trying to adjust to online schooling. It was like the world was a giant movie and all of a sudden someone just hit pause and almost everything stopped, except death, sickness, despair and a lot of uncertainty. We also saw courage, selflessness and bravery.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with a rare brain disease Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN1)- also known as the suicide disease. Back then I was able to control it with anti-seizure meds and pain meds on really bad days, which were few. I didn't know it then, but I had a very mild case. Then one day after being prayed for in early 2012, the symptoms of TN1 disappeared, while the nagging but manageable symptoms of TN2 would show up here and there. I was healed in my mind.
So when I experienced the first TN1 attack for the first time in 7 years on Friday May 29, 2020 and it was worse than any I had ever had before, to say I was stunned and afraid is an understatement. My blood pressure sky-rocketed to 268/140 and I could barely breath. The attack lasted just minutes, maybe 10, but it felt like an eternity. I alerted my husband, out of fear that I might have a stroke or heart attack if another one came. I'm in my 40's. I shouldn't have to deal with this. Right?
That weekend my twin brother and sister-in-love came to visit from Syracuse. We also saw Pastor Reggie and First lady Yolanda. The weekend was wonderful, but in the back of my mind I wondered if another attack was lurking.
Friends, I am not being a drama queen when I say the pain was so bad, it made me despair of life itself. This doesn't mean I was suicidal, it means, I couldn't take the pain and death was the only way to stop it. I'm just being real with you! There is a reason this disease has a 25% suicide rate and is coined the "Suicide Disease". It's no joke.
The truth is Christian's can and do think of killing themselves, when things get so bad and beyond their ability to bear. Most do not want to talk about it for fear of being judged as weak in faith or accused of disobedience that caused the suffering. We can be awful to each other, can't we?
The Apostle Paul also suffered this deeply, mentally and physically and he said :
2 Corinthians 1:8- NIV
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.
He wrote this AS HE WAS SERVING the Lord's purposes. Some people think if you are in the will of God that you won't suffer or shouldn't. I'm sorry but that just isn't biblical. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is true. We will suffer and the Word of God tells us how to endure and how to comfort others when they suffer.
Peter was also not silent on the issue of suffering:
1 Peter 4:12 NIV
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Acts 14:22 — (NIV)
22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Revelation 21:4. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ... Someday we will have eternal life with God, where there are no tears, grief, or pain.
Friends, there are just something's you cannot pray away because it isn't the Lord's will in that case to heal that way. Some things you can't just say "speak those things that are not, as though they are! and "poof" and expect everything to just go away or right itself. Casting out the devil doesn't always work, especially when God wants to use that suffering for his purposes and maybe the hands of a doctor to heal.
We don't get to tell God how to be God and we have to be able to balance the two truths that declare:
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
Back to the story.... on Memorial Day, shortly after my twin and his wife left to go back home, another attack came. This time it was much worse than the first. So, I quieted myself in my prayer room, put my hand on my chest, tried to control my breathing and would recite through the tears and gasps for breath when the pain became to great, the prayers of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Not verbatim, but close enough......
Here is a link to Matthew 26:36-56 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2026%3A36-56&version=ESV if you want to read it for yourself.
So, I cried out "Abba, please, Abba please take this away from me, I cannot bear it. This pain is a liar and trespasser. You have already healed me in Heaven Father, make it so on Earth.
Lord you are good and you know all things, please take this cup from me, you've saved me from far harder things, you can do anything. Lord I'm afraid." Then I began to praise him in song, quiet, muttering through sobs, of mash ups of songs that came to mind, as I rocked forward and backward, pressing against my chest to try to relieve the intense pain.
Then that's when the enemy came in like a flood attacking my mind, lying about who I am and Who GOD IS. It was easy to rebuke Satan, he was clearly and obviously in this situation full of it and honestly battling the lies with the truth was a great distraction. I was in battle mode and I was fully suited up.in the armor of God. I was strengthened. I was still in pain and I was hanging on to God for dear life! Then GOD raised up a standard against the plans of the enemy. I could endure as along as I continued to surrender to the Lord's will, not accept this disease as mine and WORSHIP.
Just a few days later, I had an already scheduled follow up with my neurologist. Our appointment was by video-conferencing and as soon as the visit started an attack came on. At once Dr. D knew exactly what was happening. I cried like a little girl pleading for him to help me. He did. He ordered anti-seizure meds and made a referral for Gamma Knife Radio Surgery and Penn State Hershey Medical.
From June 2, 2020- January 10, 2021, I had daily attacks, sometimes up to 20 per day. I was on insane and probably dangerous levels of anti-seizure meds, barely functioning and some days just despaired. Every attack was a battle, for my life. I was in the danger zone - the stroke or heart attack zone and it was just a matter of time, sans the Lord's protection.
During these attacks I always OUTLOUD praised God, declared his works in my life, the truth of his word, the power of the resurrection, and the reality that I was His! It never lessened the pain, sometimes made it so much worse, it eventually stopped providing any distraction from it, but it did help me get through these attacks, which could last on average 15-35 minutes, the longest being 2 hours. The enemy wanted to shut my mouth, to silence me and it wasn't going to happen, not until my last breath. The Gamma Knife made it much worse, meds were refractory (starting not to work) so I had to keep taking more, and looking back I was crazy to keep working, but we had a major project to be completed mid-October and I didn't feel like I could back out at that point. I needed to get it to the finish line.
We can argue whether I could've or not, but what I believed at the time is what I acted on. It was so bad, that even walking from one room to another could set off an attack. My short term memory was shot from the meds and my soul was tired. I was so broken and frustrated, but determined to keep living life. I was convinced, that this infirmity that was trying to kill me..... "Came to Pass" It would end.
A few of my so-called-friends were having meltdowns because I couldn't be the Tammi they were use to and I wasn't meeting their expectations. I even experienced the betrayal of some friends that came out of nowhere and that I never saw coming during this time!
So Again, the Apostle Paul's account of suffering in Asia; this time the Message version....
Message version of 2 Corinthians 1:8
We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.
Both versions explain what I experienced, maybe you too, just different details. I saw the beauty in the sharing of suffering, but I also experienced the torment of the actual suffering; that I am sure by the way pales in comparison to what Christ suffered on the cross.
But this was my very personal gethsemane, and not my first I might add, in the almost 17 years walking with the Lord but it was by far the worst.
What's your Gethsemane, a spouse who left, a child that died, an addiction you can't shake, an abuse as a child, a betrayal of a friend, the death of your spouse, an abortion you can't forgive yourself for, an adopted child out there that you've never met, loss of a job, injustice in your life, a terminal diagnosis?
We all have something, even if we don't talk about it. Something that we thought would kill us. This is why the Apostle Paul's and other bible characters stories mean so much to me! Paul was living it out, sold out for Christ and laid-bare for all to see!
I'm also grateful for the Apostle Paul's transparency. He's the Champion of Christlikeness in my opinion, he shares with such candor his trials and despair! He's real. We should be too.
I heard a Pastor say once, "if the Apostle Paul preached and shared as he did in the above scripture in the present tense, he'd be booted off the stage, in todays church."
I think there might be some truth to that.
Maybe this assumption is best proven in our inability to talk about mental health and illness in the church today. Now don't get me wrong not all churches are guilty, but many are and as a result of us missing what Paul demonstrated, which was "going through suffering and being honest about it" many people in the church suffer in silence, or leave the church altogether.
Being raised by a mentally ill mother and struggling with mental health during my own trial with the rare brain disease, it's at the very forefront of my mind. The GREAT APOSTLE PAUL suffered mentally, and was open about it, so shouldn't we get better at loving and serving those in our circles/churches that suffer too and stop blaming Satan or Sin all the time? Just a thought.
Yikes, I guess I should get back on track and close out the Rare Brain Disease story. In short, on January 11, 2021, I had brain surgery to treat the problem. It was performed by Dr. Michael Lim at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto California. It was successful and I did not have any complications thanks to Dr. Lim's steady hands and expertise with these rare diseases and I cannot forget his amazing team. I AM FREE OF THOSE DISEASES!!!!
Interestingly, during my pre-surgery clearance tests, I did find out I would potentially need a stent and also was diagnosed with a second neuralgia, called Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia (GN). How crazy is that? Two rare (same disease affecting a different cranial nerve) brain diseases????? Dr. Lim addressed this nerve compression too, when he performed the microvascular decompression on the 5th cranial nerve, trigeminal. God led us to this knowledge so when Dr. Lim operated he would "GET IT ALL"!!!
Almost 90 days post op from brain surgery, I had a heart catheter procedure and had two stents placed. God saved my life and prevented a cardiac event. Clogged arteries run in the family, so I was fortunate that is what caught pre-event. I now have the energy of a 20 years old, except for the occasional nap. But in my defense I am still recovering from brain surgery! He Saved My Life
The GN diagnosis and surgery removed the PICA artery compression, The PICA artery supplies blood to the cerebellum part of the brain which controls language, attention, movement and balance. If this artery became anymore impinged against the 9th cranial nerve, I could've had a PICA Stroke. God showed off in all of this! But seriously,
He saved my life- literally AGAIN!!!!
I have since left my job as the Executive Director of a local Habitat for Humanity and am taking some time continue to heal and to seek and discern what God wants me to do next. The Lord told me when my period of rest would come to a close, is near the end of the year, so I am using the time to attempt to finish my book with my lovely and dear friend who happens to be an author. I won't use her name since I did ask permission, but BS is a gift from GOD. I am also using the time to just BE STILL AND KNOW. Psalms 46:10
Finally, Sweet Soul, if you are in despair right now for any reason, you can cry out to Jesus, as he knows every suffering we experience and is always close by. He's in the fire (trial) with you friend! Read his word on suffering. Listen to sermons and worship music to encourage yourself. Stay close to trustworthy people and PLEASE GET HELP, professional help if you need it and NEVER BE ASHAMED OF CARING FOR YOURSELF BY ASKING FOR AND GETTING HELP.
If you are not a follower of Christ and want to become one, simply ask Him to cleanse you from your sin, and to make you new and to guide you. Find a local church, join a small group, get into community. We aren't created to do life in isolation.
Get connected. Please!! We Need You!!! God has a good plan for you, despite how you may feel.
While, I'm no Jesus, you can also message/email me, I'd love to hear from you and would be honored to pray for you and connect you to some local resources if you need them.