Sunday, January 23, 2011

Miracle in the Mountains

Miracle in the Mountains

I tried jumping up and down in place, just to get some blood moving. Anything to distract me from the cold, so wet it was suffocating. But, the sloshing and squishing of my wet boots was worse than just standing still. Heavy, wet socks bristled against my almost-numb toes.

“What time is it now?” I shivered. I was being annoying, I knew. But, it had to be close to 5:15 by now. Time could not move this slow, not even on a day like this.

“It’s only been ten minutes since you last asked. 4:45.” The Elder rolled his eyes at me as he replaced his soaking wet glove. I could have mentioned his fingers would warm up faster without the wet gloves, but emotions were already tenuous.

We tried playing games, quizzing each other on movie lines from classic 80’s films, singing our favorite songs, anything to pass the time until the bus came. The sky was finally darkening, slightly. It was the first time all day there had been a change from the ominous cloudy gray color.

What an adventurous P-day. I knew it would be when I woke up to rain in the valley. What hike up a mountain in rain wouldn’t be an experience? But, we all needed a break from the city and the monotonous tracting, so no one backed out. Thick, wet fog accompanied us all day, draped around us like layers of gauze. Halfway up our hike, the rain had turned into stinging snow. We didn’t let it stop us, and hiked for hours until the snow was up to our thighs and we were so helplessly lost we finally came to our numbed senses and turned around. We ended up sliding down the mountain in the snow, soaking every part of us the rain hadn’t previously claimed.

Five o’clock showed up. Only 15 more minutes and then warmth. Well, the beginning of our journey to warmth. The bus wouldn’t be heated, but we would be out of the wind. We had to take three different buses before we’d get back to our apartments. Ten more minutes. We played more games. Finally, 5:15 came. And then went. No bus. No worries. They were just running late because of the weather.

No. No bus. 5:30. No bus. 5:45 p.m. Still no bus. Six o-clock came. At some point, we all realized there would be no bus. We were at a reclusive bus stop up in the mountains in a rainstorm. It was pitch black. We didn’t know what to do. Not only had no bus come, we realized we had not seen a single vehicle of any kind pass us going either direction during the two hours we had been waiting. We were freezing, wet, hungry, tired and completely stranded.

With no other options, we started to walk down the road toward the nearest city. We knew it was a little over 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) down a serpentine road, the only one for miles in any direction. I kept trying to grasp the gravity of our situation, knowing I should be panicking.

The newest missionary in our group suggested we offer a prayer. We stepped off to the side of the road to pray. Not that we needed to step off anywhere. There was no traffic to worry about. It was a simple prayer, offered up in faith by a group of missionaries who were without other recourse. Then we continued walking. Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes you pray and then you just have to keep going in the right direction on your own.

We hadn’t been walking for very long, however, when a supply van passed us going up the mountain. We all got excited simply because it was a sign of life! We had seen a car. Who cares that it had been going the wrong way. Maybe that meant another car would come down the mountain and stop for us!

We kept walking. And walking. And walking. For long stretches of time, the only sound was the squelching of our wet boots on the road. Then, we heard it. The faint sounds of a motor approaching. We turned back and saw a pair of headlights coming towards us going down the mountain. Without even saying anything, we all turned around and held out our thumbs.

As the headlights drew near, we noticed it was the same van that had passed us earlier. It started to slow down. As we let out a collective sigh, it rolled to a stop. One of the Elders explained our situation to the driver. He got out of his car and said he’d give us a ride to the nearest town. He opened the back of his supply van and we piled in. It was cramped, and there were no windows, but there was enough space for all five of us. One of the Elders rode up front.

It was a miracle, especially considering the type of cars in Slovenia. Most people do not have cars, they simply rely on public transportation. If they are fortunate enough to own a car, it is a simple two door Fiat or Yugo, or some other tiny car that makes the US compact cars feel like sedans. When we’d occasionally get rides from members or investigators, one of us would sit up front with the driver, and the other of us would crouch down in the back, all curled up for the duration of the ride. Cars were just tiny.

Even after we prayed for help to get home, I realized there would be no car driving by that would be big enough to fit all of us. There were five of us. Cars fit two people, three, at the most. The most I hoped for was a car to send some of the missionaries on ahead and they could call some members for help. I never imagined a car big enough to fit all of us would ever appear.

Perched on some boxes I couldn’t see, I kept thinking -- no one owns a van! I wasn’t sure if I’d ever even seen a van in my months so far in Slovenia. It was so miraculous and rare that this van was on that road at that time. And, what was this inexplicable van doing on this winding deserted stretch of a mountain during a storm at night? These thoughts were voiced aloud among us missionaries as we sat there in the pitch black riding down the mountain.

We expressed our gratefulness to Heavenly Father for answering our prayer so immediately. I said another prayer of simple gratitude because I was so overwhelmed by the situation. The van started to slow down. We heard the front doors open and shut and then the van doors opened. He had driven us straight to the bus stop in town. We thanked him as best as we could and gave him a rather soggy Joseph Smith pamphlet. He accepted it graciously and our angel of mercy got back in his supply van and drove off. We never saw him again.

As we waited for the last bus of the night to take us back to our home city, the Elder who had ridden up front, told us our rescuer’s story. Apparently, this man normally drove a tiny two-seater like every other Slovene did. He owned a supply van, but the engine wasn’t working and the van had been sitting out front of his house for months. Then, the day before our adventure, he decided to get the engine fixed on his supply van.

Then, that night, he felt like he needed to go check on a shed located by a property up the mountain. Twice he almost backed out because of the weather and the time of day. But, he eventually decided to go. Since his van was now fixed, he decided to drive that instead of his normal car. He drove all the way up the mountain to the shed, only to realize that he had left the key to the shed at home. He turned around and came back down the road and that is when he saw us and gave us a ride.

It was a miracle. By any definition. We had been rescued by a miracle. We prayed in faith, and Heavenly Father orchestrated this perfect miracle of events to answer our prayers.

Now, whenever I feel metaphorically stranded, I remember to pray. Pray and walk. For Heavenly Father knows me. My van might be just around the bend.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Things you might need to know to appreciate this post:
1) I love grapefruit
2) I love candy
3) I hate shots/needles
4) Six years ago, my body was diagnosed with "Hashimoto's Thyroiditis" (a condition where the immune system attacks good organs... in this case, my thyroid).
5) Every year on Christmas morning, we have grapefruit, followed by cinnamon rolls. It is pretty much the only Christmas day tradition I have.
6) In May 2010, I found out my body has diabetes
7) I'm trying to distinguish between who I am, and what my body is. That I am not my body. It's all part of this life coaching technique my older brother is helping me with.

Four days before Christmas, I had my three-month checkup with my endocrinologist. If you don't know what kind of doctor that is, it is for the endocrine system, and I've been seeing him regularly for six years now for my Thyroid issue, and now diabetes. At this appointment, he said my numbers weren't going anywhere good. My sugars were up (despite diet and exercise), and my cholesterol levels were really high (despite diet and exercise). He also showed me this number for this specialized test he had run on my pancreas months earlier. Normal levels for this test are 1.0 or less. My number was 30. Basically, he said my immune system has turned on my pancreas and is attacking and killing all of the beta-islet cells -- the ones that produce insulin that help the body to absorb sugar. Another effect of all this is essentially the early signs of heart disease. He said over and over and over again, how people who are not overweight, who exercise, and eat healthy, can have heart disease.

As a result of my numbers, he said I will most likely be insulin-dependent in about 12 months. Maybe a year and a half. Other doctors, he said, would have me strictly on insulin shots already, but he wants to postpone it as long as we can. He doubled my oral medication, which makes me extremely nauseous, and prescribed a new one for cholesterol.

My doctor was pretty nice to say over and over and over again that there is nothing I am doing that is causing all of this. My body is not behaving the way it should be under normal circumstances. I guess that helps to relieve the would-be guilt factor. I was handling all of this in stride, as best as can be expected. Then, I went to pick up my new medicine that night.

As the pharmacist was running my credit card (for the enormously HIGH co-pay on that cholesterol medicine), she handed me the medicine and almost as a last-minute comment, said, "Oh, and no more grapefruit."

"Seriously?" I blurted out.

"Yes. For real. No more grapefruit. For life."

"Seriously?" I thought she was joking. Had Dave called her in advance and told her about my love of grapefruit, and my Christmas morning tradition that was just days away?

"Yes, Ma'am. I'm serious."

I couldn't believe it! As I drove away from the pharmacy drive-thru window, the reality of everything just came crashing down. I laughed out loud the whole way home like some maniacal creature. Oh, the irony of life.

Soon (though hopefully not until 2012), shots every day. And no more grapefruit? Seriously?
Before I pulled into my driveway, I had already made one critical decision. High cholesterol levels or not, I was going to have my grapefruit on Christmas morning. So, Dave went and bought plenty of big, juicy ruby reds. I postponed taking my medicine for a few days. And, Christmas morning, I woke up, and had a grapefruit; section by juicy section. Then, I squeezed out every drop of juice and drank it up. It's going to have to last me a lifetime.


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