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What I’ve Gained From Memory Loss

The very poor memory of the fish, Dory, in the Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo, may make her character cute and loveable to most. On my bad days, however, she is my celebrity doppelganger.

About five years ago, I was a buckled passenger in a near fatal car accident. I’ve been blessed with a remarkable recovery, but my lasting injuries include a scar across my forehead, along with my somewhat rotten short-term memory. It’s been really difficult going from being a type-A, organized, over-achiever, to suddenly becoming forgetful and very easily confused!

Even though I can pat myself on the back for the number of compensatory strategies I‘ve learned to employ, I’ve had many instances of grieving the recently acquired need for such strategies. But, in my more mature moments, I can admit how my difficulty with short-term memory has taught me some valuable lessons.

 

1. Forgive as though as you have memory loss

For most of you, the forgetting part after forgiving someone is just not a possibility. Try as you might, you can’t always will yourself to completely forget something.

Do you still have a grudge against your friend for that incident two years ago? Do you often experience frustration with a family member over his or her choice in priorities? Pray that God would grant you the miracle of forgiveness and seek to replace any ungracious thoughts with uplifting ones.

 

2. Live in the Moment

Aiming to “live in the moment” may just sound like a catch phrase, but particularly in the early days of my recovery, my memory loss made it a necessity to do so. During that time, it was really challenging to identify what day of the week it was, the year, even my own age. I was 24 years old at that time, but, in different situations, confidently stated I was anywhere between 14 and 30.

Although I’m a planner by nature, I was experiencing an alternate reality, one that was devoid of time. So, a positive outcome of my memory loss was learning to appreciate the present. There is a time to plan and prepare for the future, but amid the busyness of normal life, try to stop for a minute. Instead of always thinking ahead, acknowledge who and what is currently surrounding you.

 

3. Be Grateful for Every Little Thing

Add to your awareness of the present, gratitude for each moment. In 1 Thess. 5:18, we’re instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances”, so I challenge you to give this a shot. Take a minute from your day to pause and really soak in what you are grateful for in that exact moment.

What are you gathering through your five senses that could otherwise slip by unnoticed? Try writing down at least one thing every day that you appreciate, without any repeats, forming a journal of gratitude that can be looked at and prayed over whenever. I am not advocating a perspective in which you discount life’s difficulties, rather, simply acknowledge the blessings. For example, I grieved not being able to run, but in its absence, I recognized more of the incredible skills that I used every day (like sight and hearing).

A significant loss I’ve experienced is my ability to play cello due to the weakness in my left arm and hand. Now, nearly five years later, I can acknowledge this life-changing loss, but I am also able to articulate gratitude for ever having had those musical abilities. If you need to ask God for a right and grateful perspective, know that you’re not alone! And, if you’re not at the point of being grateful for an outcome, you can still honor God by telling Him that you trust His sovereignty, despite the painful consequences of being on this side of heaven.

You can include in a daily journal of gratitude any of the mental and physical skills you may take for granted. Only when I couldn’t do many of the physical activities I loved (like run, rock climb, swim . . . ) did I realize how much I valued them. Likewise, suddenly experiencing difficulty with short-term memory opened my eyes to the importance of that ability in everyday life. If memory loss has taught me anything, it’s to not wait till I lose something before I start to value it.

 

As you take proactive steps toward fully appreciating the blessings in each moment, you may become increasingly aware that life is fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. Do not allow the brevity of life rob you of enjoying the present. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but relax! Know that through Jesus, our eternal home is secure and the best is yet to come!

When Pride Lingers After An Accident

There’s nothing innately wrong with being proud of something or someone. Pride can be a good thing. But we have to be careful with it because it can become very dangerous when it’s misplaced.

Well, I had been living dangerously and I didn’t even know it. I was placing pride in myself above anything else. On May 3, 2012, my self-pride took a big “hit,” and I mean that literally.

I was driving home after running a few errands in town when another driver ran a flashing red light, hitting my truck and pushing it into a concrete utility pole. My head then went through the driver’s side window and struck the pole, causing a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Though my life was spared, as a result of my TBI, I did “lose” much of what had made me me. So you would think my problem with self-pride would have been lost as well. It would be a thing of the past, taken care of once and for all. But it wasn’t. My self-pride may have been curbed somewhat but it never left completely. It would exit for awhile but never stay gone. It was always finding its way back. It wasn’t that long ago when my pride issue was starting to make one of its ugly returns. And the scary thing is I didn’t even know it was happening

During my most recent bout, I was focused on getting as many people as possible to hear the miraculous story God has written and is still writing for my life. I was spending a lot of my time and energy “promoting” myself on social media and other platforms. I was telling others about who I was, my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, and so on. I was becoming over-focused on myself.

As all of this self-absorption was taking place, I heard a very timely sermon where my pastor was teaching from the book of Ecclesiastes. That day, he focused on one particular verse: “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

I believe this warning also applies to self-pride and self-absorption, etc—the very attributes I was displaying.

I knew God was speaking directly to me. It wasn’t something I should take lightly, because it had the ability to destroy me. I was very grateful to be made aware of this, but now what? How was I supposed to combat overrighteousness and, thus, avoid being “destroyed”?

As I was sitting there pondering this question, our pastor led us to the New Testament and the book of Matthew. “But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

 Now that was a very familiar verse to me. I had heard it many times before. But, as our pastor pointed out to us that day, there is a word tucked away within it that we tend to gloss over and overlook. But that single word was the answer to the question I was just asking myself. This one word, when taken to heart, gives us the ability to avoid being destroyed by our overrighteousness. This very powerful word is: His.

You see, our righteousness isn’t ours. It’s His. It belongs to Jesus. Every little bit of it. We haven’t anything to do with it. The only reason we can be called righteous is because of what Jesus has done for us. So anytime I start thinking too highly of myself or believing that I am in any way responsible for my righteousness, I need to remember the One who truly is.

Moving forward from here, I know I will need to promote my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, etc. I understand this is necessary if I want to people to hear the story God has written and is still writing in my life.  But when doing so, I have to remember that none of what I am claiming ownership over is actually mine. Not one bit of it. Because just like my righteousness, it all belongs to Jesus.

An Accident Nearly Took My Life But Grace Saved Me

Written By Xueying, Malaysia, originally in Traditional Chinese

On 20 August 2011, eight days after my 26th birthday, I was nearly killed in a car accident.

That Saturday morning, I was driving around the outskirts of my hometown, Ipoh, Malaysia, with a colleague. Suddenly, another car coming from the opposite direction veered into our lane and collided with us head-on, wrecking our car.

The driver, an elderly man, suffered minor injuries and was discharged shortly. My colleague and I, on the other hand, were critically injured. Both of us had to undergo surgery immediately. Tragically, my colleague passed away that very night. I remained unconscious, with multiple tubes inserted into my neck and wrist. A metal implant was also inserted into my right arm.

When my parents heard about the accident, they rushed to the hospital. When they saw the state I was in, they broke down. Every day after that, they would go to the temple to pray for my recovery. During that time, my relatives, friends and colleagues also visited me.

A week after the accident, I was transferred from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to the general ward as there was insufficient space in the ICU. Two months later, I was discharged; I was still unconscious.

For the first two months, I remained in a coma and was fed through a feeding tube. Pastors and church members streamed in to visit me. They held my hands and prayed fervently for me.

By the grace of God, I regained consciousness two months later. That, however, was just the beginning of a long and challenging journey. Due to injuries to my brain, my cognitive ability was severely impaired. Although friends and relatives tried to talk to me, I was unable to respond.

I had regressed to infant behavior. I had to re-learn simple things, like drinking water. My father removed my feeding tube and my mother tried to feed me with a milk bottle, coaxing me like a baby and saying repeatedly, “Come, swallow, swallow . . .” Apparently, it took me a minute just to swallow one mouthful.

Because the nerves on my left brain were so severely damaged, my mobility was restricted. I was lying on my back all the time, and it took me a lot of effort just to sit up.

Several months later, I started to walk again, supported by a pair of crutches. I will never forget the tremendous difficulty this took—I had to take a break every one or two steps, since it was too tiring to move my body. Each day, I could manage only a few hundred steps.

It was utterly exhausting. Back then, I didn’t know that I could rely on God, until a church friend passed me a Bible one day. She said to me, “Xueying, try reading the Bible when you are able to read. You can find answers to all your life questions and doubts in the Bible—true answers.”

As a child, I used to attend Sunday school; I loved singing worship songs. In university, I also attended church. However, although I knew who Jesus was, I never bothered to develop a personal relationship with Him. The only times I prayed were before exams or before the exams results were announced.

But the accident made me wonder about God’s purposes. I needed to know why I had to go through so much suffering in my life and why my loved ones had to suffer along with me. As such, while learning how to walk, I started to read the Bible.

I remember the first time I read the Bible vividly. I was casually flipping through the Bible and stumbled on this verse: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Instantly, my heart was lifted. This teaching by Jesus reinvigorated me and filled me with hope—God loves me and I am His new creation! From then on, I would tell myself whenever I felt like giving up, “Don’t cry, don’t be discouraged. God will lead the way, just follow Him in faith.”

In the five and a half years following my accident, I barely touched any form of technology—this despite the fact that I was working as an electrical engineer before my accident. Instead, I would read the Bible voraciously every day, spending time to reflect on how to follow God’s word.

During my recovery, I had five major falls—each caused unbearable pain. The fifth time, I lost my balance in my own bedroom and landed heavily. The scab on my left wrist scraped against the wall and blood started to flow profusely. The pain was excruciating and I sat on the floor because I was unable to get up from the floor on my own. I closed my eyes tightly and cried out to God, “Please help me Father, I’m in a lot of pain!”

At that moment, a song that I had learned more than 21 years ago came to my mind: “Although I’m weak, God is strong”. This immediately strengthened and comforted me. I reached out to grab some tissue to wipe the blood off my wrist, and told myself not to be afraid and to wait for my parents to come and help me. Ten minutes later, my father walked past my room and saw me sitting on the floor. “Why are you sitting on the floor, does your head hurt?” he asked. I could see the look of pain on his face when his eyes landed on the blood-soaked tissue on the floor beside me.

As he helped me up, I assured him by telling him my head did not hurt—it was just my left wrist that hurt. I added, “Wow papa, you can lift me up so quickly! You’re so strong!”

As I look back on this accident, I thank God for using it to change me inside out. He has saved me from being the pessimist I used to be, and rescued me from my dark thoughts. Now, I follow Him in the light and give thanks for everything I have in life. I’ve since learned that though there will always be difficulties in this life, with God I can overcome them all.

To a person who has gone through a near death experience, I have come to see that being able to live each day is nothing short of a miracle. And having experienced God’s saving grace, I see how it is the gospel that gives us the hope of living.

Coming from a village in Malaysia where most villagers are not Christians, I am especially aware that it is the grace of God that has enabled me to get to know Him. Therefore, I am making it a priority in my life to learn more about Him and tell others about God so that many people can get to know Him as their Lord and Savior. God’s word from Galatians 6:9 reminds me to spread the gospel zealously. My parents for instance, are not Christians, but have been opened to learning more about God. It warms my heart when I see how interested they are to hear the Bible stories.

A year ago on Christmas Eve, I testified about God’s goodness in church in the presence of my parents. I shared about God’s saving grace in my life and how He changed me. I compared my experience to the process of the metamorphosis of a pupa that faces difficulty when it breaks out of the cocoon. When it does, however, it emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

More recently, I have managed to ditch the crutches and make it up to the second floor of my church to attend service on my own feet. Praise be to God!

It is my prayer that I will continue to be found faithful sharing the gospel of Jesus, so that His word can light the way for others, just as it has for me.

“We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”—Hebrews 3:14

 

The Day I Got Hit By A Truck

It was fall 2012. Like many millennials, I was over-committed to a variety of service and extracurricular pursuits—none of which I was willing to subtract from my life, but the sum of which left me completely drained.

I was in the process of accepting the invitation to become a deacon at my home church and in an essay, had penned a few lines reminding myself of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It said, “One of the current lessons in this stage of my life is that God is always providing what is good for us even when we aren’t getting what we think we want (however good and noble those desires may be). In the painful times of receiving continual ‘no’s’ to my plans, I will try to think back to this time and know that God is sovereign over all circumstances and is working them out for my ultimate good.”

I couldn’t have imagined how I’d be challenged to live out those words in a journey I would soon begin.

Laura at her graduation, 6 months before the accident

Less than a week before Christmas—exactly half way through my clinical fellowship as a Speech-Language Pathologist—my parents and I had to attend my grandmother’s memorial service in another state. I was going to play my cello during the service, so we squeezed the large instrument into the already crowded vehicle. We buckled our seatbelts and said a prayer, dedicating our trip and the upcoming memorial service to God. I took a seat in the back of the van and quickly succumbed to sleep.

Several hours into the drive, a momentarily lapse of attention caused our vehicle to drift and collide with an 18-wheeler semi-truck. By a divinely-ordained coincidence, there were two off-duty nurses driving in the opposite direction on the highway at the time. They pulled over and ran across to come to our assistance. Later, we learned that they were fellow believers.

The van’s side was peeled back as if by a can opener, and I was dangling in the open space, held by the seat belt tethered to my waist. Due to the severity of my injuries, any incorrect movements by well-intentioned strangers could have easily killed me or left me paralyzed.

Picture of the horrific crash

One of the nurses attended to my mom, who was unconscious, while the other nurse supported my broken neck. My dad was conscious but in a serious state of shock. An ambulance took me to a local hospital to be stabilized, then I was transferred by helicopter to a larger facility that was better equipped to handle my serious injuries. Thorough testing revealed that I had suffered a moderate-severe traumatic brain injury and had broken many bones, including my jaw and several spinal vertebrae. Initially, my family and friends were given very sobering predictions regarding my future physical and cognitive abilities.

At the time of the accident, I was wearing around my neck a silver pendant I had inscribed with the Hebrew phrase “Talitha Koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” This is based on Mark 5:41, which tells how Jesus spoke those words as He raised a young girl from the dead.  I had always been drawn to the story, recognizing that Jesus assuredly answers our cries for healing, although His response may or may not come in the restoring of physical ailments.

I was treated in several hospitals for a total of 72 days—of which I have no memory. I advanced fairly quickly from being bed-bound to using a wheelchair, then from using a cane to walking unaided, and also from relying on a ventilator and tube feedings to breathing and eating unassisted.

Laura in a medically-induced coma just days after the accident

Now, nearly four years and innumerable hours of physical therapy later, my deficits are largely invisible at first glance. You can see the scars on my petite frame only if you look closely, and you might not notice the weakness in the left side of my body. I use subtle, compensatory strategies to make up for my poor, short-term memory—which I am likely to experience the rest of my life. Being a very determined person, I have pushed myself hard in physical therapy, but some of the activities I once loved to do are currently still impossible for me, including playing the cello.

I don’t know why God allowed this accident to occur. But more importantly, I also don’t know why He allowed me to experience such a remarkable recovery. My oldest sister, Annie, died suddenly and tragically when I was less than a year old, so I grew up personally experiencing God’s love and sovereignty and understanding that His character remains constant despite sudden changes in life plans. I am grateful that even before this accident, I knew I was secure in God’s hands and that He was sovereignly guiding my life. In my case, His “Talitha Koum” for me has included amazing healing that came amid huge losses, uncertainties, and complete shake-ups to my plans.

Throughout this journey, which has included moments ranging from nearly unbearable grief to amazement and joy, I have valued the lessons God has gently reinforced, and which I will continue to appreciate throughout my life. I have had a few, very dramatic and life changing years, but I do not consider the resulting uncertainties to be wholly unique to those often faced by others in my age group.

Even if an 18-wheeler didn’t collide with your plans, this time of your life is usually marked by choices that could determine your future. Choosing jobs, starting relationships, other moves . . . the possibilities seem endless. Some ambitions may seem elusive, while in other cases, you may be fearing the consequences of bad decisions.

As in the earliest days of my recovery, I find it most comforting in such uncertain times to hold on to what I know to be true. For a Christian, the unchanging character of God and His sovereignty over all situations offer the assurance that He is above any circumstances. It gives us resilience.

Although we can’t predict what our life journey will look like, if it is done for the honor of God—given to Him for use—we can be confident of it being used by the Creator to have the greatest impact. The older I get, the more I realize just how little I can control.

Thanks to my damaged, short-term memory, the initial months after returning home from hospital included the painful, daily discovery of my newly-acquired deficits. One time, when I was experiencing the raw, bitter reality of these losses, I typed a note into my iPhone as a constant reminder: I hate not being able to run, rock climb, work, play my instruments like I used to, be as independent as I used to be, involved in the ministries I used to be, or as social as I used to be . . . But I’ve currently been called to a very unique, emotionally and physically strenuous role. May I live each day in a way that is worthy of this calling.

There isn’t a lot we can control in life, but we can direct our response to glorify to God, then rest in Him however the situation plays out.

Picture of Laura meeting the two nurses

Picture of Laura meeting the two nurses