I could only imagine the thoughts that were invading his mind as he lowered himself to the bathroom floor and dialed 911. My friend/classmate, who I will call Al to respect his privacy, was scheduled to graduate from Loyola University Maryland in four weeks, with a Masters of Science (“MS”) degree in pastoral counseling. He had taken the National Counselor Examination (“NCE”) that morning, and was still in the building, when tragedy struck. For the next two months, Al exchanged the classroom for the physical and occupational therapy rooms, as he relearned how to perform basic activities of daily living (“ADLs”), with the goal of regaining his independence.
Al had suffered a stroke, specifically a right anterior cerebral artery ischemic stroke. This stroke did not create facial distortions, nor did it affect his mind. However, his left side was weak, and in addition to an inability to control the affected muscles and limbs, he experienced pain and intermittent muscle spasms. What the stroke did not affect was his positive attitude and sense of purpose. And as I read his daily posts on Facebook, and the e-mail updates from his wife, I developed an appreciation for his faith in God and his personal power. I had no doubt that recovery would occur, and it would happen quickly.
The daily updates were, in essence, progress notes. Each day offered a reason to celebrate, and on the rare occasion that a relapse occurred, getting back on track was almost immediate. I knew Al was an active member of his church, and as I followed his progress, I recognized that his relationship with God played a more essential role in his recovery than I had originally imagined. One evening during a visit, we discussed his faith and how it related to his current situation.
Al’s faith is rooted in the sovereignty of God. He is certain that God was responsible for his illness, and he supported his belief with the Biblical teaching that all of our days are written and established before one of them has happened. Therefore, he accepted the stroke as a marker on the road he was destined to travel. I suggested a comparison with Job where God allowed the devil to persecute him. Al did not agree, simply stating “because Christ has ransomed us.” He said that God’s purpose is to glorify his son, and that God is dedicated to transforming each believer into the image of Christ. Al also hoped that his illness would benefit someone, and his stroke would not be wasted. I assured him that he had inspired me, and if I ever were to become ill, I would find a positive role model in him.
After almost 5 weeks, Al transferred to Encore at Turf Valley to complete his final phase of inpatient rehabilitation. Encore is located across the street from his church, and he was able to attend Sunday service. As I sat with him during his last evening at Encore, I wondered what, if anything, in our Pastoral Counseling program could have prepared him to negotiate his life-changing event with such a positive attitude. Al had acknowledged earlier feelings of despondency, and his fear of being handicapped for the rest of his life. However, his faith helped him to set aside those thoughts and focus on healing. And as I looked into his eyes as he spoke, I understood that I had found my answer. Al’s ability to use his faith to effect healing was pastoral.
Al is at home now, and after two months of being cared for by others, he is testing his independence. On his first day at home, he posted: “Today, I am at home. I made a pot of coffee. I had breakfast, cleaning up after myself. I am using a walker around the house, trying to remember to go slowly and to stay safe. But, I’m smiling.” Al’s sense of purpose, his personal strength, and his faith in God continue to be strong, and have helped him through difficult times. He still has a way to go to complete his healing, but his prognosis is good. As I look back on Al’s journey, I am proud to have been his classmate, and to call him my friend.