She'd been feeling occasional numbness in her fingers and toes. We were afraid it might be neurological, but there was no slurring of speech, and her physical coordination seemed fine. "Still," our doctor said, "We could sure do a brain scan, just to be safe."
We scheduled the brain scan. It wasn't a big deal, so I didn't even take the afternoon off of work. And then I got the phone call.
"They say I need to get ready for surgery," my wife's voice said.
"Surgery. They think my brain's under a lot of pressure. The scan makes it look like the fluid is crushing half of the brain. The radiologist seemed really concerned; he never saw anything like this before."
"I'm on my way."
I don't remember telling my boss I had to leave. I don't even really remember driving to the hospital, though I do recall that it was hard to see the road through my tears. I also remember being really frustrated that I couldn't find a parking spot.
Then, after all the buildup, we waited at the hospital for a few hours -- and nothing happened. They sent us home. The neurosurgeon's office said he didn't have any immediate openings but made an appointment for two weeks later.
In the meantime, we met with an obstetrician to see what the consequences of neurosurgery might be for our unborn baby. He was comforting but vague. "It really depends on the neurosurgeon," he said.
So we waited to meet with the neurosurgeon. The two weeks were excruciating. I don't remember being so fearful about anything in my life.
When the day finally came, we found that the neurosurgeon wasn't even a little bit concerned. "Well," he said, "You are missing a large portion of brain tissue. But from what I can see, your brain has looked like this since birth."
"You're saying that my brain has been working fine even though half of it's missing?" my wife asked.
"Oh, yes. The brain is very good at adapting to anomalies." The neurosurgeon gestured dismissively toward the radiologist's report. "Your neurological functions are perfectly normal. You say you've gotten a college degree, raised three small boys, and run a non-profit organization. That seems pretty high-functioning to me."
"So... are there any next steps?" I asked.
"You're welcome to get a second opinion, just to be certain. And we can do a followup in six months if you really want to," he said. "But, really, the best thing you could possibly do is to forget that this ever happened."
The human mind is miraculous. It can parse complex sentences without a second thought and come up with grammatical responses in a matter of milliseconds. It can create concertos and comic books. It can solve brain-busting equations. It can recognize thousands of unique faces and tell with alarming accuracy whether those faces have anything to hide.
Even more wondrous is our neuroplasticity -- our brain's ability to change over time based on our environments, needs, and choices. And it's not just the functions that change; it's the physical configuration of our brains themselves. They're constantly rewiring themselves to form efficient new pathways and repair old, damaged ones.
My wife's brain is an amazing example of this -- it adapted perfectly to some unknown fetal trauma. If it hadn't been for her occasional numbness, we never would have even known half of it was missing. (We're still not quite sure what caused the numbness, but we think it was a vitamin deficiency.)
For all of its wonders, though, there are some things the human brain does not do well. For example, we aren't good at holding multiple complex or conflicting ideas in our minds at the same time. This is where heresies come from -- we glimpse one facet of God's complex nature, and we immediately lose sight of other truths that exist in tension with the one we see. So when I see God's mercy, I may begin to doubt His justice. When I see the vastness and complexity of the universe He created, I might wonder how He could ever care about me as an individual.
Failure to remember is a constant struggle for us. It is how the children of Israel, after being miraculously fed on divine bread and water gushing forth from a rock, questioned God's provision and demanded meat. (They got their meat in the form of disease-bearing, death-dealing flocks of quail. I suspect that the human taste for irony is one aspect of the imago dei imprinted on us.)
Failure to remember is how I, a resident of the freest nation on earth, with the gifts of eternal salvation, a good-paying job I love, a sweet wife, and a comfortable home full of delightful children, can feel worthless and dissatisfied.
This is why monuments are so useful to us forgetful humans. When God parted the waters of the Jordan so His people might cross over and take possession of their Promised Land, He instructed them to take twelve rocks -- one for each tribe of Israel -- from the riverbed, right near where the priests were standing with the ark of the covenant. This, not incidentally, was the center of the power that had held back the riverwaters. And so they took the twelve stones and formed them into a monument that stood for years where the Israelites camped that night.
Was it possible for the people of Israel to forget how God had made a way for them to cross into the land He would give them? Probably not that day. Maybe not the next day, either. But a year along, when the battle was raging and friends were falling to the swords of the land's inhabitants and they were filled with doubt over whether God was truly with them? You'd better believe it.
But then, they could return to that old campsite. They could consider the river-rocks stacked in an undeniable heap. And they could remember the inexplicable goodness that had led them here. And the truth would come flooding back to them like the waters of the river after the priests carried the ark out of its dry bed.
The river itself, raging along within its banks, stood as a testament to God's faithfulness in delivering His people. He made a way for them to arrive here, and He would continue providing deliverance until the work was done and the land at last was won.
- My wife -- and you, and me, for that matter -- is made fearfully and wonderfully in the image of almighty God.
- My wife is missing half of her brain.
- Somehow, she is not only "normal anyway," but one of the sweetest, smartest, funniest people I know.
- At the time when the danger of her missing brain tissue was most real -- in utero, and in the few months thereafter -- God preserved her health, even though no one else had any idea that anything was wrong.
- God is perennially good, and His goodness does not depend on favorable outcomes. Even if my wife had died of a brain hemorrhage four years ago, and if our Maddie had died with her, God would be no less good, and I would be no less blessed by His hand, than I am today.
- Every moment, every scare, every relief, and every true tragedy is a gift from the Giver of all good things, who uses them to draw His own inexorably toward Himself. May we have the eyes to see them as such.