Have you ever felt “trapped?” Trapped is when you feel helpless and hopeless and the world seems to be crashing in on you and you can’t escape. I know what it’s like to feel trapped. When I had my first stroke, I couldn’t move my right side. I had a terrible headache that felt as if a vice was squeezing my head (and that headache lasted 8 years). I had garbled speech. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t clearly communicate my thoughts. I was trapped inside my own body. I felt a lot like Job in the Hebrew Scriptures. I kept asking myself, “Why?” I mentally yelled at God. “Why now? Why me? Why did I have a stroke?” Being forced to “rest” and “keep silent,” I began to pray. The reasons didn’t matter. What had happened was my new normal. I needed God’s input. I needed God! Prayer allowed me to focus on what God was trying to teach me in my time of “entrapment.” For any of you who have had a stroke or have cared for someone with a stroke, you realize that progress is slow – slower than what seems rational and reasonable. People (especially primary care givers and the person who had the stroke) get frustrated with the slow progress. God taught me in those times that progress is still progress and that moving forward, albeit painfully slowly, is still moving forward. Our spiritual lives can experience this same feeling of being trapped. Perhaps you can’t forgive yourself or someone else and you can’t read the Bible anymore. Perhaps you are worried about a situation at home or at work and that keeps nagging you – trapping you – and sapping your energy so that you can’t pray. When have you felt “trapped” spiritually or emotionally? What worked for you in that situation? Or are you still struggling?
There is good news. Even for those who will not fully recover from a stroke and continue to feel trapped in a body that has failed them, God is with us. God never leaves us alone. Spend the time you have praying that God will show you a new way to do things or a new way to pray. My step-grandfather had a stroke when I was a teen. I remember how that changed him. But it didn’t stop him. He loved to bowl and began bowling with his stronger hand, while sitting down, with those bumpers on the lane. But he STILL bowled! Over the years I’ve had many church members who have conquered insurmountable obstacles in terms of recovering from strokes. They have learned to communicate with picture boards and pointing devices. Wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters aid in mobility issues. Medications help with the pain. Special shoes, braces, canes, reaching devices, all help promote a way of being independent. Physical, speech, and occupational therapy does work!
Six months after my first stroke, I was walking and talking. I had a droopy smile and some memory loss. I still had that headache. Later on, I would be diagnosed with that rare brain disease I mentioned in my second blog post. But I was alive! Every day is a gift. Every day, I recognize that God is with me. What brought YOU through the times of feeling trapped? What do you still struggle with? How can I pray for you or with you?
Rev. Bev Hall, pastor of Pleasant Hills United Methodist Church, Middleburg Heights, OH