When you sift something, you end up with remnants left once the sifting stops. Those remnants feel very precious, and I find myself wanting to protect them for always.

It was 5:45am when my cell phone rang and the photo of my Dad lit up the screen. Without hesitation I asked, “What’s wrong Dad?” Somehow I knew. “I think you’re mom’s had a stroke. We are in the ER, they just took her back for a CT scan.”

His words were calm and very matter of fact. “Ok” I said, “How are you Dad?”

He hesitated just a moment and the tears came with his breaking voice, “You had to ask that….”

This wasn’t the first such call from my Dad in the past couple of years. Multiple times my mom has been in the ER, a TIA first, A-fib next, and then a scary brush with V-tac. In all of those times my Dad’s voice never cracked and there were no tears.

This time was different.

“I will be on a plane as soon as I can and I’m two hours from the airport so it may take awhile. Please keep me posted.”

We hung up and I began working to re-route myself to Phoenix.

Messages went back and forth between my brother, my dad and I, my kids and Mark and I and “my people” (the ones you know will pray, the ones you know will hold your heart, the ones that for me are scattered across the country).

It took nearly 12 hours from that call at 5:45am to when my plane from Seattle landed on the runway at Sky Harbor.

The first text to drop in when I turned my phone on had my brother’s name. My initial thought was, “she’s gone.” Not a rational thought, but one fueled by the memory of my uncle dying suddenly from a second stroke after we all felt relieved when he survived the first stroke earlier that day with relatively little impact to his brain.

I’d been holding my fear of the same thing happening again since the first call from my Dad, once you’ve tasted the reality of death coming suddenly and unexpectedly your body holds the memory, and mine was holding it like a rock in my belly.

I carefully slid the bar on my iPhone “Hey, leaving the hospital, Mom is good. You may want to stop for food on your way as the cafeteria closes soon since it is Sunday.”  Food was not the first thing on my mind and the rock in my gut was taking up most the space where food might have mattered.

“Good” would deteriorate within an hour of my arrival at the hospital. I noticed it as my mom’s eyes, which are a spectacular shade of teal and always bright, looked confused and searching while the nurses were exchanging information during the shift change about how she was doing. I sat down on the bed and asked her if she had understood what they were saying and her eyes spoke what her mouth was having trouble expressing.

My Dad went to find help and ended up running into her neurologist, who after asking her a few questions ordered another MRI. As he and my Dad stepped into the hallway he shared that my mom had stroked a second time earlier that afternoon, when she had been in the machine for the first MRI.

It was a long night, as we waited for test results and then the Dr.’s words, “There’s nothing more we can do in the way of intervention, we will have to wait now and see how the next 24-36 hours go.” Which meant more strokes were possible.

My friend Jamie came to the hospital, bringing me food and then sitting with me past midnight; I’ve known Jamie for over 40 years, it seems like always.

The next few days the routine was simple:  sit with my folks as we came to experience the full impact of my mom’s stroke to her speech and cognitive center, get lunch with my dad at Los Olivos, a daily trip to Starbucks for my mom’s venti decaf iced caramel latte, home for cheese and crackers and glass of wine before bed…wake up and repeat. And each day my mom and dad’s people called, texted, emailed and came by the hospital.

These were the “always” people. The ones I remember from when I was ten and my parents stood talking with them after Sunday morning church, the ones who wrote checks to support me on my first mission trip and who’s kids were my friends as we navigated church youth group together.

“Always” people come when tragedy strikes and the odds feel overwhelming.

They lean into the pain and the unknown, not because they can make it better but simply because they long to be present with us. Always people cross the miles.

As I was making my way home via the Minneapolis airport later that week I was on the second of the ridiculously long walking sidewalks you take through the maze of gates when the weight of the previous week washed over me.

I felt as if someone had pulled the plug on the bathtub and all the water had drained out from inside of me. Tears pooled in my eyes and began running down my face as I walked just a bit slower on my way to my connecting flight home.

It was about more than my mom’s stroke, it was about the cumalative impact of what has felt like a sifting of my soul.  The Greek word for sift means, “to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow.”

My faith has been tried during this season and it has been important for me not to swallow my thoughts, my pain, and my needs.  The time with my parents and their “always” people brought unexpected blessings that ran deep to my core.  We were not alone as we sat in the hospital facing the realities of what was unfolding for my mom.  They also reminded me of my “always” people, the people that have held me in love, even across the miles.