My family chatted about past Disney memories on the ride home from a family Thanksgiving celebration on November 28, 2015. Even while laughing about times together, we agreed that it was time for a potty break in hour four of a five-hour drive.
So my husband Greg, who was driving, pulled over at a North Carolina rest stop at dusk. The next few minutes would be replayed over and over on news channels throughout the state and indeed, the country. He was shot during an attempted armed robbery in the men’s restroom while two of our four children and I waited just outside the building.
We heard the gunshot. We saw the guys run out.
We heard Greg’s screams.
We ran in, to find Greg on the floor of the men's restroom on his belly. While Jacob called 911, Laura rocked herself on the floor, saying over and over, “My Daddy’s dead, my Daddy’s dead…” She was looking at her Daddy in a pool of blood from his nose that he had busted on the tile floor. I was hysterical. Greg was awake, calling out to Laura that he was not dead. "It's okay, princess!" He yelled out. "It'll be okay! Daddy's still here!"
Greg was filled with peace. Peace that can only come from Christ. He relayed that he could not feel his legs.
Over the next 24 hours in the hospital, after I posted on social media about the shooting, we were trying to make sense of everything that was going on with him. I would tickle his feet: nothing. When a tech said the "P" word of "paraplegic," I broke down and wailed. The gravity of his condition hit us both hard. He held my hand, tears streaming down both of our faces.
As a pre-scheduled Concert of Prayer was starting at our church on Sunday morning, a wave of peace washed over the room. We were being lifted in prayer. We felt the presence of Christ in the prayers of His people. Even as Greg cried out in pain as the nerves from the waist down were firing and shutting down, we experienced the Holy Quiet of God's Son calm us both. Greg fell asleep. I knelt on that sterile hospital floor, praying in gratitude. My soulmate, the love of my life, was paralyzed, but alive.
It has been one year.
The past year has been one of exceeding difficulty. The shooting changed our entire family – individually and corporately. Each of us has battled depression in some degree and tried to make sense of our roles in the family now. As someone with chronic illnesses myself – rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, degenerative disc disease, chronic and cluster migraines – I always thought that Greg would be eventually taking care of me. I expected that one day, my chronic illnesses would eventually get to the point that he would have to assist me in the bathroom, or bathe me, or even change my clothes and help me in and out of the bed.
I never thought I’d be the one doing those things for my 44-year-old husband.
The hospital bills have been paid for by the state (thank you Jesus!), and the fundraising made the necessary house renovations and his car possible (thank you Jesus!), but the monthly prescription costs, his medical supplies, and doctor co-pays have made a financial toll on our family. He went from not having any medications or medical supplies at all to having daily needs that are not just nice-to-haves but medically necessary because of paraplegia.
Because of the way he must use the bathroom, he acquires regular urinary tract infections. These can quickly become deadly and come with an emotional toll: I know that an infection can kill my husband. That is a heavy load to carry every single day.
People tell us all the time they are praying for us. Daily. I believe with all my heart God hears those prayers. Though the daily struggle is incredibly difficult, God has given us His strength and determination to learn and grow. We are better off now than we were six months ago. We are better now at cathing and transfers than we were three months ago. Just last night, for the second time in the year since the shooting, he fell out of his wheelchair. I dragged him across the hardwood floor to the coffee table, put down sofa cushions, and he rolled on top of them. He pushed up with his arms and I stabilized his knees under him with my foot preventing his feet from sliding. We positioned him so that his arms were on the coffee table, and in one swift and smooth motion, I grabbed his pants and hoiked him on top of the table. He transferred to the wheelchair and we celebrated: we could not have done that just a few months ago.
The big things have become the little things.
Greg went back to work in February, merely nine weeks after the shooting. He went to driving school to learn how to use hand controls. We used the last of the fundraising funds to purchase a car and have hand controls put in it. A lever on the left of the steering wheel makes the car accelerate and brake, and a knob on the steering wheel helps to turn it. He surprised me one day when he reached across and held my hand: he had learned how to use the lever and steer with his left hand so he could hold my hand with his right.
The little things have become the big things.
While this year has had an enormous amount of pain and tears, it has also been a year of exceedingly abundant grace from God. It has only been His strength that has sustained us. Isaiah 40:29 states, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
We are so very weak in our own power. We are beyond weary. But because of Christ alone, He has shown us His power, His presence, and His peace. Greg is still paralyzed. Unless God intercedes with a miracle in which Greg’s spinal cord is not severed and his L1 vertebrae doesn’t have a bullet lodged in it, he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. However, though he will not walk again, God is using him -- to share the Gospel at the hospital's trauma survivors group meetings and to coach t-ball and basketball. In 2017 he's planning on becoming a peer mentor to victims at the hospital who find themselves in similar situations. It is not Greg doing these things -- it is the Lord God working through him and providing the strength to do them. All Greg is doing, is obeying.
If we are anything through Christ, we are Kingdom people. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that because we have accepted the gift of salvation from God through His Son Jesus Christ, when Greg dies or Jesus returns, Greg will have a new body – a Resurrection body – and he will walk and run and most of all – see His Savior. Our days are more than cathing, bowel programs, transfers, seering nerve pain and witnessing the love of your life struggle with every movement. It is being in a relationship with Faithful God, the GREAT I AM, the Name above all names. If anything, this experience has brought both of us closer to Christ in a way that we weren't before.
And for that, we are thankful.
Knowing that Christ is in our midst has been an awesome experience. We’ve wondered how we’re going to pay this or that, due to medical expenses, and suddenly, the finances are there. While sales of my new book haven’t gone so well, we are thankful for the opportunities that have been presented. We're trying to figure out a way that Jacob can acquire reliable transportation to his job and start community college in January, but we know that God will provide, somehow, someway. We know that with Christ, all things are possible.
You see, a year ago, I thought my husband was dying. I was wondering how I’d manage as a widow with an adult son who has autism, a son who was in college, a diabetic step-daughter who lived far away, and a little girl who has chronic migraines. We had more than our share of disabilities, I thought – then this happened.
Yet, in His mercy, God said that He was enough for us – that His grace was all we needed. He reminded me that He had been there through Sam’s autism diagnosis and Laura’s migraines. Jesus has been there through stroke-like hemiplegic migraines that sent me to the hospital for days; He's been there when I also needed to care for my elderly mother when she became ill this year. The very same God Who had been there is still here.
You know what? Just as He’s here now – He will be with us (and you!) in whatever happens in the future. Jesus had wrapped His arms around Greg in the trauma ICU and around me as I walked the hallways on the night of November 28, 2015, crying and praying. Now, as Greg winces in nerve pain that takes his breath away or I have to help him in unimaginable ways, we know that Christ sees and holds us tight. When I pray, "Just help me sleep, Lord," I sleep soundly and peacefully, without the nightmares of that night that so often plague me.
It has been one year since Jesus knelt down on the floor beside Greg on that cold rest stop floor and whispered peace over him. It has been one year since Jesus parted traffic like the Red Sea as I was driving (very fast) to the hospital, praying, while Jacob called family and friends and Laura sobbed in the back seat. It has been one year since our lives changed forever.
It has been one year since Christ came into our midst in a very real, incredibly tangible way, providing His strength and mercy. To God be the glory. To God alone.
P.S. Many people ask how they can help. Here are some specific prayer requests:
- to find a reliable and affordable vehicle for Jacob to drive to work and school (his truck was totaled this summer in a car wreck)
- that the nerve pain which is accompanied by seering cold spots on Greg's legs will be figured out by medical personnel
- that Laura will remember when her Daddy could walk
- that the books I've written will sell and be used to disciple others in Jesus' name (for I do long to be a word missionary and share Him with others through the written word)
© 2016 Terrie McKee
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