The most serious adversity in my life happened on August 19, 2014.  At about 6 p m on that day I suffered a severe stroke that put me in a hospital for ten days and in a nursing home for ten weeks, not really able to do anything for myself.  This event, that came out of nowhere, threatened to define my future as one of total dependence on others for every need in my life.  After reading the CT scan that evening the attending neurologist at St. John Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma said "this guy isn't going to live through the night" but Almighty God said "I have things for him to do, he will live". 

A few days later, as I laid in that hospital bed, unable to move and oblivious to the world around me, my future looked pretty dismal and my family was told that it looked like I would live, at least for a while, but that I would be paralyzed, not able to ever get out of bed on my own, and would be a mental vegetable for as long as I lived.  Again, God said "I have plans for him, he will recover" and I eventually recovered to the point that I could return home with very limited mobility and very impaired brain function.

 The first thing I can remember thinking is that this stroke would not define my future.  The neurologist, during a visit to his office in February, 2015,  told me that in 25 years of medical practice that he had never seen anyone suffer as much brain damage as I did and survive.  He also told me that it was as if someone had put a shotgun to the right side of my head and pulled the trigger.  He was truly amazed that I was mobile as I hobbled in with the aid of a quad cane.  He told my wife that we needed to find something for me to do to give me incentive to recover.  I started driving in February 2015, venturing onto neighborhood streets for a few weeks until I felt capable enough to try getting into mild traffic.  In March I began going to Celebrate Recovery at Cedarpoint Church in Claremore.  The church is less than two miles from home and driving on major roads to get there is minimal.  I started helping greet people at the door as I could do that and sit when necessary to keep from overdoing it. 

Marsha found out we have a local long term care center for veterans in Claremore and arranged for me to apply for a volunteer position, which I started in May 2015, starting with a couple of hours a day until I built up enough stamina to expand hours and duties.  I continued that work until the coronavirus ended the volunteer program in March 2020, amassing 8, 354 hours of volunteer work in the 58 months I was there.  I still spend Monday evenings at the door for Celebrate recovery, doing what I can to serve Almighty God through a local church.  I had attended Cedarpoint Church for many years and started back full time Sunday attendance in June 2015.

It doesn't seem like I did much at the Veterans Center nor still do much at Celebrate Recovery but both efforts are seen by others as significant, especially when they see the difficulty I have doing the simplest of functions.  Every person can make a difference in the life of others if willing to do so.  How much of a difference one makes may never be seen by the difference maker and we can only hope that somewhere in the future others will benefit either directly or indirectly from our efforts.  My hope is that others will be encouraged by what little I do and determine to not be defeated by a serious setback. 

The rewards I have seen through trying to help others have been astronomical.  I didn't go into either project looking for more than a hope for physical improvement and emotional stability after a very traumatic event.  I didn't then, and still don't, look for applause from people because it is done to serve God and to thank Him for the gift of the partial recovery of now and the total recovery that is coming through His mercy, love, and grace.

The Holy Bible says "Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over".  I have seen this come to me in some degree and know more is still to come in the future.  No one can out give God and I am seeing that every day of my life.  One of the rewards of the volunteer work at the Veterans Center was seeing how blessed I am as I daily saw others much more impaired than myself and hearing from others how they were inspired to not give up because they could see what faith and determination could do together.  Life success is a combination of God and self, do what you can do and trust God for what you can't do yourself.  God will reward both personal effort and faith, especially when done for His glory.

There is a secular saying that goes  "when life gives you lemons make lemonade", in other words, turn adversity into victory.  I really enjoy a cold class of lemonade, especially on a hot summer day, so that saying holds a special place for me.  Marsha, my wife, during a discussion of the impact of the stroke and when we might see the total restoration I dreamed about in May 2016, said that it could be that God has someone who needs to see me crippled, how I handle it, then see me restored to help them deal with a similar situation now or in the future.  It could also be that someone who observes my journey will suffer a stroke in the future and be able to use my example to help themselves. 

Even if neither of those scenarios occur we may never know how much someone else benefitted from my experience but what matters is that the difference would have been made and someone else's life had been positively impacted by seeing faith and determination combined for victory over adversity.  Marsha also told me a truth I hadn't thought about.  She said "one can't have a testimony without a test and the testimony is better if one goes through the test without the moanies" and we both laughed.  She said it in jest but I see it as a very profound statement and have tried very hard to make that a theme for getting through this adversity.

Marsha has been quite a positive example and inspiration to me as she has suffered with fibromyalgia and sciatica, both extremely painful by themselves but monstrous together, for 25 years.  There are 5 levels of pain medication and she in now only to level 3, preferring to suffer rather than risk the medical and mental drawbacks to the top level, which is pure morphine several times a day, to overcome the pain.  She is 13 years younger than me and still works a full time job, after which she helps take care of needs I can't do for myself.  She is truly a wonderful example to follow, an inspiration, and an encouragement.

I am also blessed to have 3 church families who pray for me, and encourage me every time I see them.  Having Jesus in my heart is great and being surrounded by His followers makes a huge difference for me so how could I not pass that on to others as well as possible?  I have days that are difficult but God gives me the strength, through His Word and His people, to continue on in faith knowing that His reward is beyond anything I can imagine.

I submit this in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, Son Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, in faith, with the responsibility given to me by Almighty God to honor His work and not let it die from neglect.

Bob Russell

Claremore, Oklahoma

May 8, 2021

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