I always thought there were certain guidelines or rules that if followed, meant life would pan out. I didn’t grow up going to church or knowing that Jesus was my Savior. But when I did accept Him as Christ and began attending church, there was an underlying expectation that He would hand over the keys and life would be one blessing after another.
“For better or for worse,” I learned, isn’t just for the institution of marriage, for kin become part of your vows on your wedding day. So when tragedy stepped in, I held even tighter to God, because I’ve seen it tear families apart.
There wasn’t a bad vibe leading up to our daughter Hannah’s TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). It just happened like the flick of a light switch on a regular mid-summer day when my husband was called to pick up our daughter from cheer practice early. He called me when they were in the car, and we decided to meet at the hospital.
When I saw Hannah, one pupil was large while the other pupil was screwed in tight. When the ER doctor asked her what year it was, Hannah believed it was 1998, the year she was born, instead of 2013. At first the doctors talked like this was common among athletic teens with a concussion, as if there was no need for concern. The only requirement from the ER doctor was to have Hannah follow up with our family doctor at the end of the week. He anticipated she would be fine in a few days.
But something went wrong during those few days, a short in the wiring of her brain, and everything was erased from her memory. All of it. Including us. For half a year, every single day, I had to reintroduce myself to my own flesh and blood.
We watched home movies and turned the pages of photo albums to help her recollect our family history. I realize now this probably didn’t help in her recovery, all it did was make her question who she was.
Our daily lives were crammed with reminders of our growing To Do list – nuclear scans, enough supplements to make anyone’s stomach turn green, hyperbaric chambers, even an unapproved stimulation therapy used in scientific studies with the hope of healing Hannah’s brain. These all became part of our daily medical routine.
Until Hannah said enough.
She just wanted to be a normal teenager.
But how do you help a girl fit in when there isn’t a single recollection of God, family or holidays past to forge a new foundation from?
There was nothing harder or more profound than Hannah telling us that the old Hannah had to die so that she could move forward. Traumatic brain injuries can change a person’s personality. Hannah wasn’t who she used to be. We had to stop saying, “There’s the old Hannah.”
But here’s the crazier part. Two years later, Hannah and I were in a car accident, hit from behind by a drunk driver, who hit us so hard he pushed my 5,000lb Suburban through an intersection shearing off a light signal and rolling us down a hill. Hannah sustained another head injury. This time we removed her from the private high school she attended and placed her in a hospital home care program through our public school system.
Over these past four years, I’ve had to hunker down, and its hardened my insides. I want to shake off the resentment and hurt, because they’ve left me hollow inside. Like I’ve lost a part of myself along the way.
God has pulled me to the edge of something new, something that He wanted to do that has changed not only me, but also our family from the inside out. Because we’re in this together, “For better or for worse.”
I don’t have all the answers. There are days when I still find it hard to see beyond this heavily rutted path we’re walking. Yet when I look at life from the side of gratitude, I can see how He’s helped me though what I thought would have wiped me out.
People sometimes say, “I cannot find joy within myself, God is the supplier of it.” And I have found that to be true, but our hearts have to search for joy and not allow suffering to take center stage. Like a child holding up a cup to be filled with juice, God does the same for us, filling us to the brim with His goodness.
I have found joy in my weakest moments. In the caregiving that has left me fatigued and broken, I have discovered laughter. And I’ve found the simplicity of living life in the now instead of wishing for what’s around the next corner.
For joy is a matter of my heart, not the quality of my life.
TERESA COELHO is a mom, wife and founder of Power of Modesty. As a former teen model, she understands the struggles women, young and older, face when it comes to self image. Teresa speaks to groups, teaching that God is faithful in His love, goes after us at our worst, and keeps after us until we see who we are in Him. Learn more at TeresaCoelho.com
Radical hope. Compassionate change. Equipping those affected by chronic physical and mental illness through community and education rooted in Jesus Christ.