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.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Facing Difference

I'm jumping into this post, totally unsure of how to word what's on my heart, to be vulnerable, real, fully express my own thanksgiving, yet not word anything unintentionally hurtful to those with different issues than my own.

I feel I should preface this post with the note in my sidebar, "Please don't let anything I post discourage you if you are not there. I know I am blessed not to face some of your challenges (I can't imagine being non-verbal, especially for months or years, for example!), but even if we aren't on exactly the same course or speed of recovery (remember, timing is unique for each person - much of what I do today, I couldn't have dreamed possible six months ago!), there are likely some things in my recovery journey you may find yourself thankful to not be facing as well! I never want to hurt you by sharing my miracles. Please don't hesitate to share your progress (or frustrations at your areas of challenge) in my comments either."

This post is something I've been thinking on for years, but solidified into posting material with my brave and beautiful friend, Crystal Hodges (also a Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference friend!)'s exquisite post called, Embrace You. Crystal, born with facial difference in the form of a very large and noticeable birthmark covering 1/3 of her face, painfully "went viral" when someone posted her picture on the internet without her knowledge or consent, "One like = Beautiful." Ready or not, this woman and her obvious physical difference were forced onto the world stage. She could have let this experience destroy her, but with Jesus she has taken the pain and unsought attention and turned her existence into healing and beauty for anyone who feels different. (If you want to help me go to Mount Hermon again next year, I have a GoFundMe page and I will save profits from all Lilla Rose commissions I earn between now and then, toward next spring's expenses. The friendships and new connections I make there are so God-ordained and amazing!)

Closer to my own experience, I have mentioned in the past that, while I even now, still have some (quite mild) facial asymmetry (especially noticeable to trained therapy eyes), I am very thankful that severe and lasting facial droop is not one of my ongoing deficits. Satan knew several very specific and painful low blows to deal me and he hit hard in many areas I have not publicly discussed so far. Yes, Christ would have been just as powerful in my life, had I lost other specifics that have not been my cross to carry, but I am very thankful for those areas that were little (especially in the long term) effected, such as not being "locked in," serious paralysis of one side of my face, loosing ability to communicate, permanent double vision and/or blindness. Especially in those earliest years, I don't think "I could have handled" those things. 

Of course, I could not handle many of the things that really were/are on my plate (for instance, my eyes WERE really messed up for several months, and vision loss was on my "I could never handle" list, but I included in my thankful list because I have most of my eyesight back now). Only through Christ could I get up each day and live through all I have! All I'm trying to express is my thankfulness for what I am not facing, in the context of this blog post, facial difference is what I'm focusing on.

That said, this brings me to my friend Katherine Wolf of Hope Heals, the beautiful model for the letter F in this final "FAST" image below. Katherine was just getting established in a professional modeling career when her brain aneurysm ruptured in her 20s, so after two years of hospitalization, not only did facial droop have to be tackled on an emotional and personal level, it also meant the end of a promising career!  

It's been well over eight years and her facial droop is still noticeable.  In her situation, the stroke is the bottom-line reason, but the immediate cause of her lasting facial difference is the permanent surgical severing of some facial nerves as a result of extensive but life-saving brain surgery. With further surgery and more therapy than any of us can imagine, her facial control is actual quite improved over early years, but it will never regain full symmetry in this lifetime, baring another (her very life today is a major one!) act of God to the contrary!

Katherine too, has learned to celebrate the life she wouldn't have set out to have chosen. One of her favorite phrases is, "Redefine Healing; Manifest Hope." Along with her husband, Jay, this girl is all about true healing on the heart level while also celebrating any and every moment of this earthly life! (Chocolate (Kat Chat)? Cupcake, anyone? Any reason will do!) They share their amazing story in the book by the same title as their ministry, Hope Heals.

I have cognitive delays neither of these women face. My Emotional Incontinence (PBA) is a journey our entire family faces daily. Our journies share some struggles while other areas differ between these women and me. I'm not calling them out to point out, like a Pharisee, that I don't have facial difference so I "feel sorry" for them or that God somehow loves me more because He allowed this for them and spared me this particular struggle. 

I share their stories because God is gradually changing, softening me, so that when I look at them, I see their strength, joy, grace, yes even true beauty! As He's teaching me to see their beauty, He's also working on my own heart to not be quite so critical when I look in a mirror or see a photograph of myself

My brokenness may not be quite so obvious at first observation, but it doesn't take very long to see I'm different too, and that difference is something I'm working hard to embrace, redefine, celebrate. I wanted to introduce you to a couple heros who are helping me to learn how. Your struggles may be fully hidden, but you carry brokenness with you every day too, it is part of the human condition. May these faces encourage and inspire you as they do me!