By Hanan Van Holst
Although my story is long, I hope to show how the Lord carried me through trials and how He used them to refine me. "Behold I have refined you but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10).
I have a wonderful husband and family. I like to refer to my husband as my rock; whose faith never wavers and who always points me to "the Rock that is higher than I” (Ps 61:2). I grew up in a Christian home and heard the gospel preached every Sunday. Although I was saved at a young age, it took me years to fully appreciate God's unconditional love for me. When trials came, it felt like God had forgotten me. Looking back, I clearly saw that He was watching over me.
After three IVF cycles, I was thrilled to be pregnant. Unfortunately, I developed pre-eclampsia and went into congestive heart failure at twenty-one weeks. During the five weeks I was in the hospital waiting for my son's birth, I experienced a great deal of anxiety as I realized I had no control over my situation. I again felt abandoned by God. My husband stayed with me through the nights, praying, reading, and reminding me that God hears, cares, and is in control. He would often sing to me a hymn that has become "our song." The words brought such comfort and peace to my heart.
Here is the second verse of “Day by Day”:
Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made. (Carolina Sandell Berg)
I had to stay in the hospital until my son was born at twenty-six weeks. Nurses cautioned us that this would be an emotional roller coaster ride. They weren't kidding. Our boy underwent surgeries and overcame many complications. He came home eight months later; now we now have a happy seven-year-old. I was convinced that we had our measure of trials and life would become more uneventful. Little did we know what was ahead.
On May 29, 2017, my life took an unexpected turn. I woke up with no feeling in my toes. The second day, the numbness progressed up my feet, so we made a trip to the hospital where I was told the cause was anxiety and sent home with a sedative. The third day, I had slurred speech and weakness in my arms and legs. Was it a stroke? My husband called an ambulance. The paramedics again told me that it was anxiety and convinced me to stay home. That night, having trouble breathing, I was rushed to the hospital where I was intubated since I could not breathe on my own. A spinal tap and other tests were done and later, I awoke in ICU, on a breathing machine, completely paralyzed from head to toe; I couldn’t even move my eyelids. Although I was fully aware, I had no way to communicate; I was locked-in. The neurologist told me that I had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It's a rare autoimmune disorder which typically follows a virus or infection (I had a stomach virus a week earlier). After my antibodies attacked this virus, they also attacked my peripheral nervous system, which caused paralysis and tremendous pain. I was traumatized and in complete shock; I wanted to die. Although I was on heavy medication, the pain was relentless; it felt as if boiling oil were poured all over me. There was no escape. This, along with laboured breathing on the ventilator, made it nearly impossible to sleep.
My husband read cards to me from caring, praying friends. He would whisper in my ear, "You may not be able to talk, but God can still hear you. Cry out to Him!" That's exactly what I did.
A week later, I began to move my lips, and a few days after, my cheeks. I started to regain a little movement in my upper body every few weeks. Nerves were regrowing one millimetre a day. One day, in my pain, I cried out to the Lord to send me someone, when suddenly, a face popped into my blurred view. It was a nurse from the hospital who was a believer and an acquaintance. Even though she worked on a different floor, she ministered to me immediately and daily. She also came to visit on her breaks and days off. There was no doubt in my mind that the Lord sent her to me at that perfect time. She brought me a verse to hang on my wall, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah 43:2). What a promise from the Lord!
After a month in ICU, as two nurses were turning me (an extra painful experience), I crashed. Suddenly, everything was silent. Then I heard the distant voice of the respiratory therapist, "I've done all I can do, the rest is up to her." I felt as if I had a choice: life or death. At that pivotal moment, I chose life. I wasn’t certain if that choice was in my control, but I no longer wished to die.
I was blessed with more Christian nurses. One would pray over me while another sang worship songs to me. One nurse told my husband that before her shift, she prayed at home for God to give her a patient who really needed her that night; her prayer was answered, as I had an especially difficult day and needed someone who was extra caring. I also had many visitors and friends who were an encouragement to me.
We were told this was the worst case of GBS this hospital had seen, (my more severe variant is called Acute Motor Sensory Axonal Neuropathy). We believed it was the prayers of the Lord's people that prevented any major setbacks expected for such a long stay in ICU.
After four months in hospital, I was accepted into rehab where I spent another two and a half months. Learning to walk again and to use my hands again introduced a different type of pain. The pain of becoming reacquainted with muscles, other soft tissues, and joints that were not in use for so long. The hardest thing I have ever done was to learn to walk again. At times, I was discouraged and feared that I would never leave my wheelchair. I was also tired of the pain and the exhaustion of therapy. One friend brought me a verse on a plaque. Although the verse was familiar, it now carries a whole new meaning. ''Be still and know that I am God" (Is. 46:10). What a wonderful reminder of the compassion of God!
I was discharged just in time to be home for Christmas. Although I was glad to be home, it was more difficult than I imagined. Thankfully, with outpatient rehab, I am getting a little stronger each month.
Although I would never wish for this again, the Lord unequivocally drew near to me in my pain and fear. Anxiety has been my antagonist for so many years, but the Lord is greater. I had to lose control of my body to appreciate that God was in control and had not forgotten me in spite of my pain. I am still learning to obey Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”