Down in the Valley

I see you

Imagine awakening one morning, not knowing where you are, utterly unable to move or speak. Imagine coming to the slow realization that you are in a hospital, and that the people all around you are looking at you and talking to you, but you can do nothing in response. Imagine doctors telling you that, at the age of 43, you’ve suffered a stroke that has caused what they call “locked-in” syndrome, where your body is frozen but your mind is fully functional. Fully functional…and trapped. Imagine realizing that the only thing you can move is your left eye. That’s it.

One eye.

Such was the case for Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean Do–pronounced jhan doh–to his friends and family), a one-time editor of ELLE magazine. I’d never heard of him until I caught the fascinating docudrama, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  But get this: the movie is based on Bauby’s memoir. Written after he had the stroke! Remember, now, he can only move his left eye. That’s it. He cannot speak. Cannot respond in any way except to blink that one eye. And he wrote a memoir.

The movie chronicles Jean Do’s remarkable journey from despair to hope, from praying for death to embracing life. It’s an amazing story of not giving in when circumstances seem insurmountable. We move from inside his head, where he is trapped, to connecting with those around him. A speech therapist devises a way for him to communicate. She reads the letters of the alphabet in descending order of their use, and he blinks his left eye when she reaches the appropriate letter. Blinks once for yes, twice for no. Tedious? Yes. Frustrating. Undoubtedly. But despite all that, he connects. Get outside of himself. Sees that so long as he keeps reaching, keeps moving forward, he’s not trapped at all. He’s still there. And he still has something to say. In fact, he now has more to say.

This man and his story moved me. And taught me. Showed me that doing what we’re called to do, what we’re created to do—sharing the truth of God’s love—is more important than any obstacle. Any frustration. Any discouragement. And it reminded me that the valleys–those deep, dark places where we feel lost and forgotten and incapable of going on—are the very depths where we most often find our truest voice.

Last but certainly not least, Bauby’s life challenged me. Because if he, with only one eye to communicate, can carry on, can move past the obstacles trying to hold him back, and get his task accomplished, then I most certainly have no excuse. Whatever God has asked me to do for Him, whatever stories He’s given me to tell, I will do it. I will tell them. Because I’m able.

In Him, I’m able.

As are we all.

17 Responses to Down in the Valley

  1. Ron Estrada February 20, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    And I was just complaining about not having enough hours in the day to write as much as I’d like. A full and part time job, bible study, church responsibilites…my pity list goes on and on. Stories like this remind me to rejoice that I can do all those things and still have time to pursue my passion. Thanks, Karen. Good boost for my morning!

  2. Lisa February 20, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    What an amazing story. Thanks for introducing it to me. In Him, I’m able. I love that, thanks.

  3. Judith Robl February 20, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    WOW! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Pat Jaeger February 20, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Humbling. It does seem the valleys are our best places of learning. Thank you for the encouragement, Karen. We are so blessed.

  5. Leia Brown February 20, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    I’m with Ron. I have a rather long pity list as well, and it was just obliterated. Thank you, Karen.

  6. Carole Lehr Johnson February 20, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Thanks for sharing. This story really puts my pitiful complaints into perspective. I feel so ashamed.

  7. Connie Almony February 20, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Thank you for this, Karen. I’m sitting right now on my couch, with my sick eleven-year-old daughter, who is battling head and body aches we fear may be the on-going effect of having gotten Lyme’s disease this past fall. It’s been a tough year as we’ve also had to manage my adolescent son, who has autism, as he struggles with aggression brought on by puberty. God constantly reminds me He will use all of this for His Will and this brings me comfort. Additionally, it draws me to Him because the medical community does not have solid, consistent answers for either of these conditions. I can’t rely on them. But I have something better, more powerful and filled with more goodness. I have God!
    The Holy Spirit is speaking through you for me today. Thank you for being His empty vessel!

  8. Meghan Carver February 20, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    An incredible story! If he can keep going, then what’s my excuse? Thanks, Karen, for that encouragement this morning.

  9. Julie Surface Johnson February 20, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Thanks, Karen. Truly inspiring!

  10. Micky Wolf February 20, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. The particulars of being “Down in the Valley[s]” may be unique to each of us as we journey through them, yet it seems all of us share something in the unfolding–the Divine invitation to take the tiniest of steps and emerge into the light. Can certainly be scary, but the blessings abound, above and beyond anything we could ever hope for if we will persevere. Now, the next time…need to remind myself of this… 🙂

  11. S. Kim Henson February 20, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    In the past few weeks, I’ve heard and read story after story about people overcoming hardships to move on and make a difference. I tend to make excuses about why I can’t. I think I’m getting the message.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  12. Julie Sunne February 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Wonderfully inspiring story! As others have said, it shreds my excuse list. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Jennifer Dyer February 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that heart-warming story, Karen. It inspires me as a writer and speech-language pathologist. 🙂

  14. Kimberly E. Lepins February 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    Talk about a splash of perspective! Wow….. Thank you for that, Karen!

  15. H. L. Wegley February 21, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    And I complain about a backache after sitting at the keyboard all day. We all have so much to be thankful for. Thanks, Karen!

  16. Kathy Carlton Willis February 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Remarkable! What an inspiring example. I’m so glad you shared this story!

  17. Karen Ball February 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Thanks, all! It’s amazing, isn’t it, how hearing these kinds of stories shifts our understanding of our own world and issues? Not that it minimizes what we face, but that we get our focus off ourselves and our frustrations, even if only for a moment. But sometimes a moment is all it takes for God to get hold of us.

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