Update: Stroke of Grace has become In Darkness Sing and has moved to JenniferSaake.com.

Thirty-nine-year-old Jennifer Saake (founder, Hannah's Prayer Ministries), experienced 6 strokes via vertebral dissection at a chiropractic office, including brain stem and cerebellum bleeds, in Oct. 2011. Jenni remained hospitalized for nearly 2 months and was not expected to live (near death experience) nor recover, but if she even survived, she was slated to live out her days in a nursing home or, best case, to maybe come home but wheelchair-bound and needing 24-hour care. At 5 years, 7 months God showed how He was writing her story from the beginning.

Jenni is currently writing more books and stays active on both Facebook and Pinterest. Stroke of Grace became In Darkness Sing in early 2018 and has moved, along with all five of Jennifer's active blogs, to one location at JenniferSaake.com.

Since Jenni's chiropractor carried no insurance and moved out of the country soon after the accident (thus avoiding any legal or financial consequences), if you would like to help contribute to the Saake (pronounced like the two small words, say and key) family's massive financial needs (medical expenses alone are estimated to cost between $1- and $1.5- Million in Jenni's lifetime), please visit Jennifer Saake's Stroke Survivor GoFundMe Page. (This support information has been added in direct response to several reader requests.) The Saakes sincerely thank you for your prayers and if God prompts and equips you to send any monetary assistance as well, this is a significant added blessing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Window

According to BrainLine's Facebook page yesterday (when I started this post), "Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities...Remember that not all disabilities are visible. Reach out to someone who is living with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and learn more about it at www.brainline.org."

So I've been thinking about various kinds of disabilities today. There are the kinds that are mostly invisible, like infertility or the many different kinds of (usually) hidden chronic conditions I frequently have written about over at Given Me A Thorn. There are kind that are highly visible, like when I first came home from the hospital or the brave people from this amazing manikin project. (I love what one lady said about how it is beautiful to see yourself in this way when you normally can't even stand to look at yourself in a mirror!) I love Nick Vujicic's attitude and humor about his wheelchair, swimming, children's reactions to him having no arms or legs, driving and car and so much more!

And there's everything in between, like I think of myself now, where many people can't tell just by initially looking, that my brain is battered and scarred. I remember being so surprised the first time a waiter obviously was startled by the slow, slurred speech that came out of my mouth, when I went to place an order, but did not look nearly as bad now as I still sounded. Up until then, the badly crossed eye and wheelchair/walker had been immediate giveaways!

Jennifer Saake, crossed eyes post stroke, December 2011.

In line at WalMart last week (day before Thanksgiving, so Even before "Black Friday" when you would expect shoppers to be rude and crazy), I wasn't even in an express lane, but only had one item. When I check out, I usually take at least three attempts to get the card reader to read for me, and since the person ahead of me had really had a tough time and the checker had even commented that that machine had been causing problems all day, I was delighted when I got it to work on my first attempt and mentally celebrating how very swiftly I had completed my transaction! The agitated man behind me was apparently still irritated when I took 2 seconds longer to clear the register area (with my limp and cane) than he thought I should have and grumbled out, "Move it, lady!" before I could even get my one item back into our cart.


My mom was livid and turned to the man and said I couldn't walk well and was doing the best I could. He didn't even have the grace to acknowledge her or reply. This did fluster me a bit at the time, but eventually, actually made me feel kind of good because he didn't see any reason to treat me as fragile. I told Rick that I wish I had had the presence of mind to turn around and sweetly wish him a "Happy Thanksgiving". Oh well. Opportunity lost. :( I told  my mom not to worry, that I was not taking responsibility for his poor manners. The phrase that keeps playing over and over in my mind is, "Whatca' gonna' do. Haters gonna' hate." I don't ever know where that phrase comes from, but I must have heard it somewhere! Basically, to me, it just says that I can't make other's choices for them. I am who I am and don't answer to anyone but God about my choices either.

About Thanksgiving, I haven't said anything yet because I'm still processing, but I'm ready to give it a shot now...  When I first stroked, I was angry that I had survived, that I didn't get to go to Heaven when I was already so close. As I told my 12-year-old that first year, "It doesn't mean that I don't still love you, just that if I got to choose you or Jesus, there's no competition, Heaven wins over earth, hand's down!" Well after the one year mark, I started feeling a bit guilty and selfish that I would have readily chosen my own desires over my family's best.


More recently it has really been bugging me that, in all likelihood, as a stroke survivor, my life expectancy will be cut short. I have no fear in dying and I can go back to the logical assumption that when I die, I can entrust my family's future, here on earth, to the same God who holds my eternity, but the emotions of that assuredness, that were so overwhelmingly strong that first year, don't follow now. I have seen enough glimmers of grief from my family, even though I survived, this past couple years, that my emotional side now wrestles with the devastation my death would leave in their lives.

I have an acquaintance of a friend who stroked after I did, who her husband had to make a decision about life support after a month of unresponsiveness. I was not a part of the decision, but I still vividly remember the conversation with my friend that if I were the decision maker, I would let her go Home because that would be her choice if she had to choose between this broken life (all the more broken, by brain injury) and wholeness in Glory! I still believe that to be true, that that likely would have been her desire, but I pray for her husband all the time because I finally have a better grasp on what it cost him to turn off that machine.

I am comforted by the fact that all the days ordained for her were written before one came to be and that if God had not yet fulfilled his entire purpose for her life, He would have continued to sustain her life even after the machines were turned off. But I do not know that I could offer the same depth of conviction about what should happen, if I were asked today. If God made as all, only for eternity, there would be nothing wrong with my fatalist viewpoint, but, just like the months a baby lives and develops with the mother's womb are critical preparation for earthly life apart from the mother, I'm seeing more and more that this earthly stretch, this glimmer we live before eternity, has great purpose as well, and it is not my place to short-circuit that timeline for myself or anyone else!


So all that background to say that on Thanksgiving Day, I cried twice. Amazingly, the f
irst time I was able to get off, alone, before I started crying, then calm down on my own and keep it together for the next several hours, even with Rick in the same room! (Both the ability to start crying on my own, when I actually needed to, and the abilities both to stop the tears when I needed to and to keep them at bay, are amazing!) Yes, the second time was when I was talking alone with Rick and trying so hard not to cry :( but I think we still count the day as overall emotional progress!

Both times, the tears were linked to a singular event. My whole family, the entire extended on my husband's side, when outside to put up a flag pole. Because of stairs, I stayed inside and sat in the very chair Rick great-grandma used to sit in to watch outdoor family activity through the front window. There was a real lump-in-the-throat moment when the flagpole was being raised, primarily by three teenagers, ours among them.

What really got to me though was the few minutes afterword when I watched the family stand around, admiring their work. My husband was laughing and then he glanced over and told me he loved me through the window. Our oldest looked so manly, standing with his cousins, and the younger two ran across the pasture to play together on the tree swing, also laughing as they ran. It hit me, in that moment, that God is being gentle and gracious in the timing of my death. He could have taken me suddenly and left my family reeling. Instead, he is slowly extracting me from family events and allowing me to see that my family can be joyful, even without me. For now, they need only look at the window and know I'm still there, but there will come a day when that window is empty. It will be hard, it will still hurt, but they are going to ultimately be OK. I needed that reassurance. The guilt I feel when my seven-year-old reminds me that I was angry with God's choice and wished I had gone to Heaven, is now replaced with a joyful reply that, "Yes, but God wanted me to stay here with you. And I'm so blessed that I get to be here and love you right now!"

Day 17 of 100
Hand and arm usage.
Isaiah 46:9-10 “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’.”

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