Always in the midst

It was far from a typical Thanksgiving, but we were happy and grateful.
Thanksgiving night, Bethesda, Maryland, 2013

“It is always in the midst, in the epicenter, of your troubles that you find serenity.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

An updated note, seven years later:
As I go back through these posts, it surprises me how many of them I have totally forgotten. Others I vaguely remember, but the details are lost to me until I read them again. In preparing them to be re-posted, I experience a range of emotions, because all have some sort of impact on me. Some posts, such as this one, touch me profoundly. The words I wrote here brought back vivid details of the harrowing years Jeff fought so bravely to stay with us. It’s very difficult to read, but I’m glad I captured it in this form. I have no illusion that he, or I, or indeed most of us, will long be remembered (indeed, some of us are scarcely remembered even now). But as with a grave marker, or dusty genealogy records stored away in a box somewhere, it is fitting to pause, and acknowledge who we are, whence we came, what we endured, and the miracle that we lived at all, and embraced our joys and sorrows as fully as we did.

Using Drew’s phone, I took this photo of Matt, Drew and Carla on Thanksgiving Day of last year.  We were awaiting a pizza that was being prepared as the last order of the evening at the only place we could find open in Bethesda, Maryland, that night.  Until you know the back story, it seems like a pretty depressing place to be on Thanksgiving Day.  But there is always a back story, and thanks to email records, I have a vivid record of this one.  Here’s a copy of an email I had sent to family just after midnight that Thanksgiving morning, pasted below:

Jeff seems to be doing better; he was able to speak very brief sentences and seemed mostly oriented and lucid – for example, he asked me to call Drew to make sure he and Matt got home OK tonight, and asked me about how Tuesday’s surgery went (I gave him only the good news of it for now).  They gave him a 7th unit of blood tonight since he is still draining from the wound vac and his anemia has worsened from the extensive blood loss.  The last I heard, the plan was to take him off the wound vac and close the ever-lengthening incision (which is now probably about 24 inches long) on Friday.

Late this afternoon and early evening (until 8:00 pm)  Drew sat with Jeff while Matt and I went and got a couple of hours of REAL sleep in the room we were finally able to get from the Fisher House (although I had to put on my dragon lady persona – never hard to do when needed — to get the room, after one of the charge nurses this morning was a Nazi who decided she didn’t like pathetic family members sleeping in the waiting rooms in her unit…but that’s another story…)  In any case, we are grateful to now have a place to shower, change clothes, sleep in an actual bed, store our stuff without having to carry it around everywhere, etc.  While we were sleeping this evening, Dr. H (the liver surgeon) talked with Drew and seemed greatly reassured at how Jeff is currently doing.  Drew said he used the term “turned a corner” referring to where Jeff seems to be now.  For this, and for some much-needed rest, we praise God.  I’m about to go to sleep again – my room at Fisher House is less than a mile from Jeff, and the floor nurses have my number here.  Before I left tonight I made Jeff PROMISE he would have them call me if he needed me.  I cannot imagine him actually doing this under any circumstances, but somehow the promise was reassuring nonetheless.

It will be a long and hard road, but the outlook is considerably better than it was just 12 hours ago.  Please keep those prayers coming!

Many of you will remember that day, because you were with us then, and through the long weeks and months before and after, through your presence on this blog.  You will be able to understand why a cold pizza brought back to the hospital and eaten in a hospital waiting room late on Thanksgiving Day could be, under the circumstances, a joyful feast (notwithstanding that it was procured and eaten because an increasingly-lucid Jeff, unable to eat anything at all on Thanksgiving, had insisted, from his bed, that we all HAD to get something to eat).

Jeff had just endured 15 hours of surgery on Tuesday that had not been fully completed until Wednesday morning, and despite deep concern from his surgeons as to whether he would survive, it now appeared that he would.  His scolding orders that we “get out and find something to eat” were music to our ears.  He was back.  Thus, despite each of us spending our holiday without some of the people we hold most dear, we have wonderful memories of that singular Thanksgiving dinner.

Gratitude is a relative thing.  It’s possible to be rich and not know it; to be happy and not realize it.  We often talk here at this blog about how there is always a reason to be thankful, no matter the circumstances.  But on Thanksgiving Day last year, we didn’t have to look far to find reasons to feel thankful.

For us, this year’s Thanksgiving Day celebration will again be a bittersweet one.  There will be a conspicuously empty chair at the table, one normally occupied by someone who typically would not arrive until later due to performing a job that is necessary even on holidays.  I trust and pray that again this year, in the midst of earthly woes, we will find joy, peace, gratitude and serenity, surrounded by blessings that still abide with us.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s likely you also will have a mixture of joy and sorrow to bring to the table this year.  None of us is spared the trials that go with the incredible privilege of being alive.  My wish for us, today and always, is that we will feel deeply the truth of Saint-Exupéry’s observation that serenity is found in the very epicenter of the storm.

One year ago today:

Time for finding

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Sending you cyber hugs, dear Julia!
    Praying for you. This must be so hard for you to revisit at times.

    • Thank you Susan. When I’m feeling most critical of myself, such memories fortify me somewhat. Surrounded as I have been by friends and classmates who have attained high levels of professional success and even a degree of fame, I often feel like a monumental under-achiever. But then I realize that just surviving as much as I have, is a sort of accomplishment.

      • Yes, indeed. Your life has been an accomplishment, and continues to bring light and love and other good things to the world.

        • Thank you, Susan. ❤

  2. Mary Ellen Davis

    Prayers and Blessings for you Julia. I have followed your journey since you first mentioned it in the Upper Room Blog, maybe in the fall of 2012? I still enjoy your beautiful photos, thought provoking quotes and personal insights. They brought me light and helped me “Defeat Despair” through a very difficult period in my life. I believe your efforts must have helped you stay moving forward as well. Sometimes, though we do look back and see the great beauty and privilege of life even through its tragic aspects. Such things somehow also being a privilege. Thanks again, Blessings.

    • Mary Ellen, thank you so much! All the readers here are precious to me, but those of you who have been with me from the very beginning are extra-special. I’m so happy to know you are still reading the blog, and that it has helped you in the past. And I know that it has helped me. In fact, as I’ve said many times from the beginning, I am writing mostly to myself, and putting it “out there” for all the world to see (something that terrified me in the beginning) in hopes it may help someone else. What a joy each and every time someone tells me that it did. Thanks again! ❤

  3. Susan

    Julia and family,
    May you find peace, comfort and encouragement this Thanksgiving time. You have been through so much yet you get through it with God’s strength and peace. Thank you for all of your encouraging posts that I have been reading every day for years. You jahsve been a huge blessing to me.

    😊 Susan

    • Susan, thanks so much for letting me know this. It truly means more than I can say. I often feel as if so little that I have done has made any real difference (and I know this is how many of us feel at times) so whenever someone tells me that my words have been a blessing, it fills my heart with joy and reassurance. I myself have been incalculably blessed by the writing of so many inspiring authors over the years, so perhaps in some small way, this is my effort to pay it forward. Thanks again for taking the time to leave me a comment and let me know you are there! Sending warmest wishes your way for a beautiful November.

  4. Susan

    Julia, I’m reminded again that you are and Jeff was among the most courageous people I know.

    • Susan, thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts. You have been such a blessing to me!

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