500 Steps

My father attends physical therapy three times per week.  Part of my job is to make sure that he gets to every single appointment.  Since his illness, he cannot drive, and my mother works full time so she is unable to take him. Thus, for the duration of the time that these appointments are required, I am here to help.  The goal is to increase his strength and endurance, which in turn will help him to regain some amount of independence.

Today during his PT appointment, his therapist handed him a cane that had a pedometer attached. She asked him to walk at a normal pace for a specific amount of minutes (I don’t recall the exact amount).  When he was done walking, she took the pedometer and asked daddy how old he is.  He told her his age and she did a calculation.  She said to him, “Well, you are below average.  A man your age should have been able to walk approximately 2,000 steps in that amount of time.  You only walked 500.  You have a long way to go.”

My daddy was deflated.  He lamented this revelation all afternoon and into the evening.  Just 500 steps.  Below average.  So far to go.

As we were sitting in the living room tonight he brought it up again.  “I guess 500 steps just wasn’t enough.”

My heart was broken that this information had discouraged him to such an extent.  I knew it was time for some perspective.

“Daddy,” I said, “Those were 500 of the most amazing and impressive steps I have ever witnessed.”

maus essay

In April of this year, my father was a very sick man.  He had become a shell of his former self.  He had dropped from his average of 160 pounds to about 108 pounds.  He hadn’t eaten solid food in over a month.  He was weak, he was malnourished, he was suffering.  Despite my pending and exciting plans to move to Arkansas, I arrived here in my childhood hometown just in time to rush my father to the emergency room.   He was admitted to the hospital that night.

Over the next week, his condition continued to decline, despite being hospitalized.  They were unable to get him to take in any food and he developed a horrible cough.  His breathing was so labored that with each gasp he sounded like he was drowning.  He had to be put on oxygen, but things continued to go from bad to worse.

Eventually, the decision was made to put him on a feeding tube.  Meanwhile, his cognitive abilities were slipping.  His body was so weak that he lost the ability to communicate.  He drifted in and out of a dreamlike state, and every breath he took was a battle.

One morning while my mother and I were sitting in dad’s room, we noticed that the “food” being delivered through a tube in my father’s nose was backing up.  This beige colored substance was spilling out over his face.  The doctor and nurses came in to try to adjust.  Eventually, the doctor somberly informed us that dad was septic, and that his organs were shutting down.  His stomach was literally rejecting the food, causing it to spill out of the tube.  The doctor looked at us and said, “At this point, he is dying.  The compassionate thing to do would be to let him go.”

A wave of emotions washed over me.  I was disappointed.  I was heart broken. And I was mad.  I was angry that the Lord had allowed me to believe that my father was going to get better.  I wept tears of heartache and confusion and panic.  And then I told the doctor, “I’m not going to give up on my daddy.”

Because of that decision, the only option left was to transfer him to the intensive care unit. In the ICU, daddy was hooked up to a variety of machines.  He was being nourished intravenously, he was connected to a ventilator that was doing the breathing for him, he was heavily sedated; essentially placing him in a medically induced coma.  He was being pumped full of powerful antibiotics, and for the first time in a long time, he looked peaceful.

The ICU doctor told us that dad’s status was not on a day to day basis, but hour by hour.  There was little hope that he would beat all of the odds stacked against him.  God and I had a long talk and I came to the conclusion that only He could determine the outcome of my father’s ordeal.  No man, not even a doctor, could place an expiration date on my daddy.  So I continued to pray.

Every night while daddy was in the ICU, I came to the hospital after visiting hours.  Hospitals are an eerie place in the middle of the night.  The only sounds are the buzzing and beeping of machines, along with the occasional banter of the night nurses.  On these quiet nights, I would sit by my father’s bedside, hold his limp and frail hand, and I would sing to him.  My favorite thing to sing was “Do Lord, oh Do Lord… do remember me..”.  I felt this to be the appropriate anthem on behalf of my father.  Oh Lord, do not forget me.  Remember me, lying here in this lonely hospital room.  Remember me.

After the singing was through, I would pray with my daddy.  He was completely unconscious but I just knew that somewhere in there, some part of his spirit, he was hearing these songs and prayers and was in agreement.

After about a week, something remarkable happened.  The doctor decided to take him off of the sedation, and we were warned that it would probably would not make much difference.  But… Daddy woke up.  I mean, he literally just… woke up.  His eyes flickered open and he looked around the room.  He looked directly into my eyes.  He came back.

Within a few days, he was removed from ICU and placed into a different unit.  From there we were told that although he was concious, he’d undergone severe trauma.  His brain had been damaged, his body both externally and internally was incredibly weak, and most of the damage was likely permanent.  We were told he would likely never walk again, and would probably be on a feeding tube forever.

The prayers continued.  Within a couple of weeks, to everyone’s astonishment, daddy was able to consume pureed food and thickened liquids.  Little by little he got stronger.  Eventually it was determined that he should be moved to a facility better equipped to handle what would likely be a very long term physical recovery.  He was admitted into a nursing home.

I will never forget that first day at the nursing home.  Daddy was wheeled into the place in a wheelchair.  To see him sitting upright in a chair, using his arms to move himself around was incredible. For many weeks I’d only seen him confined to a bed, needing nursing assistance even to roll from one side to another.  Now, here he was, partially mobile.

As the weeks went by at the nursing home, daddy continued to improve.  He graduated from the wheel chair to a walker.  He slowly regained his ability to eat normal solid food and to drink thin liquids. And in a month’s time, he was ready to come home.

He was so excited to be able to buzz around with his walker.  He continued to go to out patient physical therapy and soon he graduated from the walker to a cane.

Which brings us to today.  500 steps.

Despite her good intentions, this physical therapist had completely missed the miracle she was witnessing.  ONLY 500 steps?  A long way to go?  My goodness!  500 steps! 500 glorious, blessed steps.  And despite the road ahead of him, what a long way he’d come! The road behind my father is surely longer and more treacherous than that which lies ahead.

500 steps!  500 unprecedented, unbelievable, incredible steps!  500 steps that were never meant to be, if doctors and nurses and specialists and therapists were to be believed.  500 more steps than he was ever supposed to take for the rest of his life.  500 miraculous and faith affirming steps!

In my daddy’s case, and in so many of our own personal struggles, perspective is key.  Sometimes we are tempted to look upon our present shortcomings and weaknesses as burdensome barriers to our forward progress.   How we lament these moments when we look at ourselves and reflect upon how far we might have to go to get to the next level, to overcome the next hurdle, to finish the race.  But, what if we looked back at the journey we took to get to this point?  What if we looked at all of our past struggles and weaknesses and challenges and realized… we had overcome them all just to get to this point?  What if we thanked God for bringing us exactly to the point where we are right now, because it means that with His help we’ve managed to endure a lifetime of occasional struggles just to get here? What if every single step we take is a blessing, even if it is slow and cumbersome and we feel physically or emotionally weary just putting one proverbial foot in front of the other… we still took the step? We are still moving forward.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ” – Philippians 3:12-14

Amen???  Praise Jesus, Hallelujah! You woke up this morning, and you took a step.  It might have been a physical step or an emotional step that you needed to take, but you took it.  And it pushed you forward.  One step beyond your present struggle and one step closer to the finish line.  Don’t let anyone make you feel like your momentum is unimpressive or insignificant.  You took a step, and with every single step, God was with you.

500 steps.  It might as well have been 5 million steps! Each one of them so precious and such a tremendous gift from the Lord, from whom all good things come.

I pray that you are encouraged, and I pray that you continue your journey forward, thanking the Lord for every step you take.  He is with you and He loves you.  Never forget it.  Now… take a step.

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.” – Psalm 37:23