How God Provides Strength in the Sanctuary
by Phyllis Stokes
August 28, 2008. Twenty days since the house fire that tried to claim my son’s life. The paramedics found him unresponsive, overcome by smoke inhalation. He was taken to the local emergency room and resuscitated before being airlifted to a more medically advanced facility.
After twenty days in Syracuse University’s intensive care, every day was still a battle for his survival. I awoke that morning, after a couple of hours of sleep, wondering if I had the strength to face another day. The night before, doctors had performed a tedious emergency procedure to remove clots from his lungs.
Michael, my only child, was 32 yeas old and single at the time of the accident. Since arriving to ICU, he had been in a coma diagnosed with severe anoxic brain injury, carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning. With extensive grey matter damage, the doctors expected that if he lived, he’d spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state. With Michael coding three times, getting sepsis, going into cardiac arrest twice, and being unable to breathe or sustain vital signs on his own, and now blood clots, each day had been filled with one near-fatal moment after another.
As a single parent, each time I relied completely on God’ promises for Michael and His strength for me.
All of this seemed surreal. Just 3 weeks earlier, I had been working at a great job with great friends and looking forward to seeing Michael at Thanksgiving. My friend, Linda was excited with me. She always admired the picture of Michael I had on my desk. One day after I returned from lunch, someone had placed magnetic butterflies all around the frame of his picture.
Although several co-workers had a tendency to do this kind of thing, Linda, my prime suspect knew my love for butterflies.
“I just think they are one of God’s greatest ways of saying we can make it through our struggles.” I had told Linda. “And that on the other side, God has something beautiful.”
When I thought of butterflies, seeing how something as slimy and repulsive as a larva, through its transformation process, becomes a thing of grace, majestic beauty and distinction amazed me. For me, butterflies were symbolic of God’s restoration. It meant that something—a situation, a person, anything—that starts out unappealing and even disgusting can become beautiful in God’s transforming hand.
That morning, I sat there in need of a fresh, transforming touch. I had spent most of the night praying as the doctors performed the procedure. Michael’s body had endured so much. I spoke life over him continuously and even though I believed nothing, not even this, was too hard for God, still my stomach churned. As his mother, It had been emotionally devastating looking at him day after day in that condition. For the first time, the thought of seeing Michael’s seemingly lifeless body made me physically ill.
Realizing that sheer exhaustion was partly to blame, I walked from the waiting room searching for strength to go into his room. As I got closer, I could already hear the oxygen machines going. The lab tech had arrived and was doing the daily x-ray to check his lung function. I sat down in a chair outside Michael’s room to wait.
My knees feeling wobbly, I was happy to have another moment to gather myself.
I sat there communing with God. Some of my favorite go-to-quotes on strength had been those from scripture: Psalm 18:32-It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect; Psalm 22:19-But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!; Isaiah 40:31-But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.*
Thinking on these scriptures always helped me to focus; this time I needed more than usual. If I was going to make it through the day victoriously, I needed the truth of His word to penetrate my heart in a deeper way.
Psalm 96:6 says that strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. It’s one thing for God to give me His strength–He does so the minute I ask– but I must enter into the sanctuary and receive it. To enter, I must cast my cares aside, still my emotions and receive all that He gives.
The chair where I sat waiting, placed right out in the open, with hospital staff hustling to and fro, ICU alarms going off signaling the urgent surroundings, became my private sanctuary. It became a protective covering, my hiding place from everything that was weakening my ability to courageously move forward.
I tilted my head back, face toward the ceiling and closed my eyes. “Thank you, Lord for Your touch.” I inhaled deeply, filling my every cell with new life as I imagined His light shining down upon me. ” You alone are my strength today, Daddy.” I quietly sat there… safe in His embrace.
I had managed to block out other distractions, but a noise coming from the room next to Michael’s got my attention. One of the nurses, doing morning routines for another patient moved around some chairs. I glanced up to see it was Michelle, one of the nurses I had gotten to know pretty well.
Michelle, a relatively new nurse, had a compassionate heart, but was generally unsure of herself. She had been so nervous while caring for Michael one day, she broke into tears. She told me it was because she felt a connection with Michael. We had been close ever since.
When Michelle stepped around the bed in the room where she was working, I could see the detail in her brightly colored smock. It was completely covered—in butterflies.
A toothy smile spread across my face. “Oh, Daddy, you are so amazing. She has butterflies on her smock!” I remembered the butterflies Linda had placed around Michael’s picture on my desk. The weakness I felt was replaced with exhilaration of knowing God was profoundly speaking to me. He had met me in the sanctuary and confirmed his transforming power.
Thinking it would also encourage Michelle, I waited for her to come out to the hallway. I wanted to tell her how God had used her in a very special way. Finally, she came out but abruptly went the opposite direction.
“Michelle.” I whispered just loud enough for her to hear me. “Do you have a moment?”
Even though I had not managed to stop smiling, the look on her face indicated she expected something to be wrong.
“Everything is okay.” I assured her. She came closer and bent down toward the chair.
“Thank you for wearing this smock today,” I said, ” I love your butterflies.”
After I finished telling her what butterflies meant to me and how I was asking God for strength she laughed.
“I had the hardest time deciding what to wear today.” Her dark eyes sparkled as she told me about her morning. “I had really planned to wear something else. I had even ironed a different outfit, but then I changed my mind and decided to wear this one.”
We looked at each other, by now both of us were smiling with amazement.
I stood up to give her hug. “I’m so thankful you did.”
*All Scripture references are from the New King James Version.
*If you enjoyed this story by Phyllis and would like to read more of her articles, please visit her blog page at http://oneroadleadshome.blogspot.com/
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Phyllis!