I stared at the round objects I cradled in my hand. Now, what were they? Why was I holding them? They looked so familiar – but what was I to do with them?
Still in my pj’s, I wondered, maybe John would know. I’ll just ask him. I looked around for John, the still dashing Naval officer I had married 55 years ago. “John, can you come in here? I’m wondering….” He was suddenly before me, with a very strange look on his face. “Pat, what’s wrong? What are you trying to say?” I looked again at his face and saw something that didn’t look like John at all. He looked so afraid. I began to speak, “I was just wondering, what these are and why am I….”
John put his hands on my shoulders, “Pat! What are you saying?”
I realized something was different. I stopped, utterly confused. I tried to speak. But my words were not even like words. I saw panic in John’s eyes. Then I knew, something was terribly wrong. And I didn’t know what.
John was talking to me now, firmly, quietly, like he was trying to calm himself down. “…to the hospital…going to be all right…leaving now.”
He began leading me to the car. With the military precision of his Navy days, he buckled my seatbelt, adjusted his own, backed out of the driveway, all the while, talking.
What was he saying?
Where were we going?
I wasn’t dressed right. This seemed all wrong.
John kept talking while he drove: “Your doctor is there. Best place. They’ll know what to do.”
My mind was desperately trying to put the pieces together.
But someone had up-ended the puzzle box, and scattered the pieces all over the floor.
Suddenly, the car stopped. I was surrounded by people.
Asking me questions.
Asking John questions.
So many questions.
But where were the answers?
Doctors. Nurses. Machines. “Get her prepped for an MRI.”
I? Mr. I? Who am I?
My mind was a jumble. The questions kept coming, “What’s your name? What did you do this morning?”
I thought about the round things in my hand.
What happened to them?
Everyone seemed so upset. Did I do something wrong?
I’m so sorry.
I wanted to tell them I’m sorry.
But my words …where were my words?
They just wouldn’t work.
A man came in and talked to John. Did I know him? He looked worried.
“This shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t supposed to happen. She was on all the right meds.”
Later, I was helped into a bed. But not my bed.
A nightgown. But not my nightgown.
John was there, holding my hand.
Talking on the phone.
I couldn’t seem to talk. Except to God.
Please, dear God.
Help me make sense of this.
Help me find my words.
Help me find my life.
I want to find my life.
That fateful morning two years ago, with all the confusing moments is still a blur. I know now I suffered a stroke, in the language center of my brain. This resulted in aphasia, a permanent condition which does not affect intelligence, but does impact communicating and processing language.
Those round objects in my hand included carefully prescribed pills. I had diligently followed all the instructions for taking my medications, they were prescribed to block such a stroke ever from happening. But still, it happened.
In the weeks following that fateful day, I fought my way through speech, occupational, and physical therapy, flash cards and memory games; all designed to help me regain what the stroke had quickly taken away. Whatever a stroke survivor regains in the first year is likely to be all they will “get back”.
I wanted to get it all back: every memory, every forgotten word, every nuance of speech. Everything.
I’m thankful for what I regained – but it’s still painfully obvious to anyone who talks with me that much has been lost. My speech falters and words struggle to come out. Sometimes, the words that do come are wrong or worse, inappropriate (bringing delight to my adult grandchildren). My daughter remembers a conversation when I declared that everything was really wrong, only I used a word she hadn’t imagined would be in my vocabulary. Yep. All lined up to say one very bad word. It was a raw expression from me that brought both laughter and understanding for both of us. I was not the same, and yet I was myself.
My life has changed since the stroke. But God, my rock and foundation for the past 50 years of my life, has not. Over the years, I have spent thousands of hours teaching women. My goal has always been to help women seek, find and trust their worth in the eyes of the Lord. I have watched women who felt unworthy, lost, forgotten and invisible become alive to themselves and to God, who loves them unconditionally.
But after the stroke, I wondered: “Now what, God? How will this work when my speech is garbled, and my thoughts get jumbled and stuck quicksand of my mind? How can I continue to encourage women to trust You for the broken places in their lives, when I’m obviously stuck in the broken place of my own?”
God’s voice has come quietly, calming, softly speaking:
“Use what you have.
My plan for you hasn’t been altered.
My best for you is still, and always, My best.
We will do this together.”
So I move forward, trusting Him, grateful to have each day.
I don’t teach roomfuls of women any more. Instead, we sit together, one-to-one. My words are sometimes slow, and sometimes may not come at all; so then we just sit together in His presence. I listen to her heart and assure her of His love and care for her.
And I pray my presence, in the midst of what feels broken inside of me, will offer space for us to believe together in what God is doing and will continue to do.
*Following her stroke putting words to paper is very difficult. Saying yes to writing for Red Tent Living comes with much support from her friends and family. Pat is deeply grateful for the assistance from her dear friend Robin Dias in writing this essay.
Pat Sloan was born and raised in Arizona where she still lives today with her husband of 56 years, John. Together they were on staff with The Navigators for 30 years. She is a bible teacher, mentor, disciple maker, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. In 2016 she survived a stroke and now holds even more deeply that every minute is a gift. She loves caramel lattes, finding the perfect gift for those she loves, and spending time with her husband, family and dear friends.
This essay is filled with much tenderness and love. Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. It warms my heart to know that your love for God continues to radiate through you. You are a gift for other women…I hope to sit with you again one day soon💗MJ
Pat… thank you for your brave heart… one that has chosen to live fully into the space of your life… isn’t this what God desires for all of us? to let Him fully live through us… no matter how big it seems or small!!! Blessings to you as you continue to live given!!!!
Your writing reminds me of many hours spent with people who could not talk because of a disability–young and old. Yet God could still speak–without words. Thank you for sharing.
Your words have blessed me so! You couldn’t talk except to God. Simply beautiful! You were able to talk to him and ask Him for what you needed even when speech was gone from your brain. What a beautiful testimony of God’s faithfulness to you and of your love and devotion to Him. And the beauty of your purpose is being fulfilled in me at this moment. Thank you for courageously sharing your story.
Pat, thank you for your powerful words that are filled with wonder and gratitude. Your love for God and the familiarity of his presence with you in this new space is inspiring and encouraging. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. I know the cost of this essay was great. Blessings to you, Christine
Sitting together one-to-one with you, has always been my favorite! 30 years ago as a young bride you taught me much. Last week around your kitchen table enjoying John’s fantastic coffee concoctions, your carefully chosen words taught me much, My precious friend, as you trust Jesus to be your Rock and Anchor despite circumstances, you continue to teach me much. I’m thankful for you. I praise the Lord for you. I love you.
“Those who look to Him are radiant with joy.” Psalm 34:5 HCSB
Pat, your entry was compelling in so many ways. Grateful for you being part of The Red Tent Living Writers and I am grateful you have recovered and that your dear husband has been with you and caring for you. I cannot imagine the horror of what you experienced but the way you wrote about what you were experiencing is anything but normal. How shocking it all must have been….
Dear Pat, if you never spoke another word, what you have spoken to so many of us would be more than enough. I cherish every minute I have spent with you and the things of The Lord Jesus that you taught me and encouraged me in are truly some of the richest most treasured gifts I’ve ever received. Love to you. Deb Moon❤️
Pat, this is so beautiful and honoring of your story. Thank you for choosing this as your first entry. I am so thankful for your words but even more for your life! Love you dearly.
I love this. I, too, suffered a stroke, and it has been life-changing and life-affirming. God kept me here for a reason … and I can’t wait to find out what that reason is.