This week I am sharing snippets from a year in the life of one of my friends Joanne. Her story is one of triumph and faith through crazy disasters. She is truly one of my heroes. I am so excited to share her story. Be sure to read her story in her own words here.
Joanne is one of the most carefree spirits I have met in my life, a true hope-bringer in the clearest sense of the word. Whimsical. Full of life and joy. Willing to trust God for anything. Even when logic would say stop, she goes anyway. “God’s got my back, and nobody’s bigger than Him,” I remember her telling me when I suggested she shouldn’t be giving away food by herself at dusk in the middle of the downtown slums. Refreshing, childlike faith. But Joanne’s faith in the goodness of God and her hope have been earned through trial after trial. She remains committed and faithful to God through it all. For this, she is one of my heroes. This is part of her story.
Joanne heard shuffling feet in the hallway halfway through her shift. “Probably Laurel,” she thought to herself. Laurel often woke up in the middle of the night to pour herself some milk, so Joanne didn’t think much of it. Then the glass fall to the ground, so she went to check on Laurel. Laurel was on the ground having a seizure.
Joanne watched for a few moments as Laurel seized, uncertain what to do. Her training at the group home included seizure protocol, but she never expected to use it. She called her supervisor at home and explained the situation. Joanne was told to wait five minutes to see if the seizure passed. She waited the very long five minutes, then called 9-1-1.
Laurel would be okay, but things were just beginning for Joanne. She was shaken with the reality that an epileptic fit could potentially kill someone. Her brother Ricky had seizures, so Joanne couldn’t stop from thinking, “What if?” Six weeks later, Laurel would come back to her mind in a stark and painful way.
Joanne was awakened in the early afternoon by Ricky’s screams again. He didn’t communicate well, so he resorted to screaming a lot. “Probably wants to take a shower,” Joanne mumbled to herself and tried to go back to sleep. It was the quiet that awakened her again. Ricky was never quiet.
Her dad was lounging on the couch, still half asleep from his night shift. “Daddy, where’s Ricky?” He looked up at her with his head cocked to the side and said, “I just finished helping him in the shower. He is in his room now.” Joanne walked over to his room, but no Ricky. She checked the bathroom just to be sure, but he wasn’t there either.
Confused, she walked back over to his bedroom. She saw Ricky stuck between the frame of his waterbed and the wall! Joanne yelled for Daddy, and he came rushing in. They called the paramedics, Joanne knew in her heart Ricky was already dead. Blue lips. Not breathing. His fingers were ice cold to the touch. The EMTs came, but Ricky was gone before they arrived.
Six weeks later, Daddy finished some simple repairs on Joanne’s car, and she jumped in to leave. “Bye Joanne! See you later. I love you.” She was in a rush and just drove off. No good-bye. No I love you. Just drove off. Unaware she would never talk to him again.
The call came around 2 am the next morning. Daddy had a heart attack, and was rushed to the hospital. Joanne and her mom rushed to the hospital. Daddy was in the hallway, laying unconscious. The beeps and lines and numbers didn’t make any sense, and Joanne couldn’t handle more tragedy. She ran outside to the parking lot.
Joanne burst into tears as she cried out to God. “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?” A gentle drizzle started falling from the sky, and she heard God whisper, “I feel your pain. I am crying with you.” When Joanne walked back into the hospital some time later, her Daddy has passed.
Joanne didn’t lose hope in the God bigger than anyone else though. She earnestly prayed that, like Lazarus, her Daddy would rise from the grave days after his death. When he didn’t, she was confused. Why wouldn’t God answer her prayers?
Things didn’t get better for Joanne. The migraines she experienced occasionally increased, some lasting nearly a week. Joanne began to rapidly gain weight. Her mom told her it was just depression from the tragedies of Ricky and Daddy. Joanne knew she wasn’t depressed. “I’m too much of a Tigger to be an Eeyore,” she said.
She went to the doctor to have some tests run, convinced something was causing the weight gain and the migraines. A short time later she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, in which a tumor grows in the pituitary gland. She was devastated. When will the bad news end?
She went to her small group Bible study and asked for prayer. The young small group leader told her that God was GOING to heal her. He prayed confidently, claiming the name and power of Jesus, commanding healing to begin that instant.
Nothing changed. No miracle cure. No profound sense of God’s presence. Just nothing. Joanne moved forward with medical options. The best treatment was brain surgery, given the location and size of the tumor. Joanne had a successful removal of the tumor, and her weight gain and migraines lessened.
How Did You Do It Joanne?
Through this all, she managed to hold on to her hope in God, though some days were better than others. Most of us will never experience the trauma Joanne had in the course of a year, but she kept her hope in God most days. To this day, I am amazed by her story and her heart, but I had to know: How did you do it Joanne?
I will be sharing the answers she gave me, and that I have watched her live out, on Wednesday and Friday this week.