The Rainbow After the Storm
by James Blankenship
(This article is dedicated to Ladelle, my family, and my friends.)
My hope is to write about a significant and life changing experience of my own so that others might be helped and encouraged. By “others” I mean everyone regardless of religion or denomination.
My name is James Blankenship and I am a Christian. I had a massive stroke in June of 2008, at the age of 44. For most of my life I had been healthy, mentally active, and very strong. The stroke was caused by three blood clots that occurred in major arteries of my brain. About 95% of my brain’s right hemisphere suffered oxygen deprivation—oxygen simply did not reach the brain cells of my right hemisphere. A right side stroke can paralyze the left side of the body, and I am left-handed.
My sudden incapacity greatly challenged my faith in God and has changed me in other ways as well.
This has been the most traumatic experience of my life, one of those things that might tempt anyone to ask, “Why? “ To satisfy the natural tendency to look for a culprit, let me say that I have never smoked or made a habit of consuming alcohol; also, my cholesterol readings were always low. The cause of the clots is still unknown, and I am still paralyzed.
In my early childhood I survived two major heart surgeries, the first at age two and the second at age four. Both heart surgeries were very complex, and apparently very few people who have endured similar surgeries are still alive. Repair of both an aortic stenosis and a ventricular septal defect was not something commonly done at the time.
After the surgeries, or at the point in my life that I began to understand what had taken place, I decided to spend the rest of my life working to be physically fit. I quite often rode a bicycle up steep hills or played tennis. I also enjoyed hiking in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.
I choose to believe that the reason I am alive is due to the intervention of God--I believe this to be true in all three circumstances. My stroke likely would have killed most people, since I received no medical attention for almost thirteen hours after the initial symptoms. And the stroke was very severe, due to the fact that I had three blood clots at once; the occurrence of one or two is more typical.
Perhaps I am still alive for a reason. In the end I believe I will be a stronger person, more compassionate to other people. I often thank God for saving my life, yet at the same time I am very miserable living as a paralyzed person. My life has not turned out to be as rewarding as I had hoped. I must be patient and trust God to see what work He has planned for me. Though I try to find logic and reason in all this, perhaps it will be only after I die that I will grasp the larger picture as our all-knowing, eternal God sees it.
Who can question God?
We can’t understand all that happens in our lives so we must simply understand this: Jesus paid for our sins. The wages of sin is death. He paid that debt. So when I get bitter and angry I try to remember that He loves me, and my relationship with Him is strengthened. I can’t overcome my paralysis without Him and without reading the Bible more, something I neglected to do prior to my stroke. Sometimes God puts trials in our life so that we will need Him in our lives instead of trying to depend on ourselves. When I complain and feel selfish, I remember that throughout history people have suffered and will continue to suffer, and as I write this I am reminded of Holocaust Remembrance Day which was Sunday April 11th.
The doctors told me I would never walk again. But I have a different outlook than that, a different medicine of faith and the determination God gave me. One promise I have from Scripture is that those who believe in the Lord Jesus will see paradise. In terms of “time,” our time in heaven will far out weigh any suffering we may endure on earth.
My sufferings are countered by the many blessings in my life. God showed me many wonderful friends who care for me and have remembered me. Receiving countless phone calls and Facebook messages showed me how many friends I didn’t know I had from high school until after this stroke. Then there is my otherwise good health, my family, friends, and Ladelle. I still have a good memory, good hearing, good vision, and great determination. Plus, I have the ability to laugh and get through whatever pains and torments I am facing. Most of all, my faith in God is greater than before.
After I recover (I don’t say IF) I expect to have a good future. As long as I stay on my blood thinner and check my blood-clotting time often, I am not likely to form more blood clots. Though I still do not know exactly why my body formed blood clots, it is clear that the clots caused my stroke. So as long as I stay on blood thinner I should be fine and live a long life. I am NOT a stroke victim; I AM a stroke survivor.
The human brain is one of God’s miracles. Although much of my right hemisphere was destroyed my left hemisphere has already begun to take over for the right, allowing me to walk short distances with a four footed cane. The issue of physical pain is now demanding daily, hourly attention-- some days being better than others. I still have much to learn about how to recover from this terrible disability. After I make more progress I will be able to do a better job of offering hope to others. I look forward to the future and plan to speak with other stroke patients and be of some encouragement to them.
I named this article “The rainbow After the Storm” because I recently met a wonderful woman online named Ladelle. I met her shortly after my stroke. She is my rainbow after the storm. Also, having a near death experience gives a person a greater appreciation of life, people, and our Creator. In times of great trials do not give up. Lean on God and look for the blessings in your life.
A favorite Bible verse I recently found is 2 Corinthians 5:17. It reads: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”