Thursday, March 14, 2019

Not Forsaken

Image result for chris channon

This is a true story. You can Google "Chris Channon" to find a dozen news report about him and his story. I met Chris at work and ever since he told me his story, I have been telling it to everyone around me. Finally, I found the time to write it down and hopefully it will go even further.  

I was once a successful business owner with two construction companies, living a comfortable life for over 30 years. My three beautiful children were my pride. A few years ago, I decided to devote my life to humanitarian work serving in Africa and Southeast Asia. My background in construction enabled me to help the local people build schools and hospitals. While working with such a large number of refugees, I experienced humanity to its greatest extreme. I witnessed poverty, brokenness, oppression and even genocide. I evacuated from Africa when the nearby river was overflowing with bodies of innocent civilians.

In 2014, I took a break and planned a 3-month trip in Asia. This dream trip would take me on an adventure of exploring, scuba diving and mountain climbing. It would end after visiting the Great Wall of China. After six amazing weeks in Manila, Bali and Kuala Lumpur, I made the untimely decision to go to Thailand. I went to a pristine island called Koh Lipe located near the southern coast of Thailand. It was an absolute paradise. In fact, it was so beautiful that I decided to stay for two more days than I had planned.

On that fateful morning of August 14, 2014, I went to the local ATM to withdraw a large amount of cash for an upcoming diving excursion. I remember having an eerie feeling that I was being watched as I withdrew my money, but I quickly brushed it off. I spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun, the sand and the surf. After dinner at a popular seafood restaurant, I finished the day and was on my way back to the hotel. As I entered into an unlit section of the beach, a local man suddenly came from behind; he reached out to grab my wallet. I tried to push him away and that was my last memory before everything went dark. (Later the local police told me that they had found a lead pipe and my empty wallet discarded on the beach. Around the same time, two other tourists were also robbed and killed in nearby area.) 

I opened my eyes and saw a galaxy of stars blinking like the purest diamonds. The sound of the surf was really soft without the noise of the day. For a few seconds, the beauty of the night made me forget where I was or how I got there. When stabbing pain shot through my lower back I remembered the tide; was it coming or going? Sheer terror and panic gripped me as I envisioned the water getting closer and drowning me. I tried to get up, but my legs and arms were completely unresponsive. I screamed and screamed, but only creatures of the dark echoed my cries. I had never felt so lonely and hopeless. I cried and begged God to rescue me. My faith was what carried me through all these years. I thought it had already gone through enough trials to prove its depth. But the true test had just begun.

As the dark sky turned a shade lighter, the surf receded. The stars dimmed as if they closed their eyes to shun the next scene. Crabs, thousands of them came from the shallow for their breakfast, along with the mosquitoes and fire ants. They soon discovered that they had an exotic item on the menu --- me. I was freshly seasoned by the saltiness of the sea. For hours, they feasted on me. It was fortunate that I could no longer feel the rest of my body. But the pinches and bites on my face were razor sharp. The horror of being eaten alive slowly was worse than death itself. I pleaded with God again, how could he keep on watching this when the stars even took pity on me.

This next part was the highlight of my entire journey. However, you might argue that I was delusional and hallucinating, but to me, it was more real than anything I could physically see or touch. I heard a deep and firm voice from above or from within that said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” It was one of the most assuring promises of God that I always meditated on. After hearing it, I was embraced by a wave of peace that stopped me from fearing. Shortly after, a pack of stray dogs came out of the bushes. Just when I thought they were joining in the feast, they rubbed their furs against my wretched body, they licked my face and they swept the little monsters away. For the next while, they just leaned on me like they were my pets. Their warm bodies covered me like a blanket. I soon passed out or perhaps I fell asleep. . .

A squeaky scream woke me up, I saw a local man with his dog from a distance. Just when I wanted to call for help, “my dogs” got up and went towards the man. He threw rocks at them and ran away frantically. The dogs left me for good. My hope reignited as I saw the sun climbing up from the horizon, I would eventually be rescued as more people come to the beach. A few minutes later, another local man discovered me. When I called on him, my voice was so hoarse that I didn’t sound like a human anymore. In his eyes, I saw a reflection of my gruesome and disfigured body. I could understand why he too ran away in terror. My survival depended on the mercy of a Good Samaritan. A couple from New Zealand taking a mid-morning stroll on the beach spotted me and came to investigate. I used my last bit of energy to beg them for help. Thankfully I could communicate with them and convince them that I did not come from the sea. The husband took off to find help while his wife stayed to guard me. She managed to pour water into my mouth. I can still remember clearly how refreshing and sweet that water was; they tasted better than the morning dew.

When the local police officers showed up on the beach, they could only speak in Thai. They did their best to figure out what happened to me. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a bunch of curious and gossipy bystanders. Everyone had their own theory of who I was. Some looked at me as if I was a mermaid. After what seemed like hours, they placed me on a sheet of plywood and balanced me on the sidecar of their motorcycle. They took me to the local clinic. The nurses on duty had no idea what to do with me. They placed me on a cold steel table and did their best to comfort me. I looked at the clock; it was 12:00 noon. The local police continued to interrogate me and I was questioned for over two hours.  Even though I had no idea what they were saying, I think they suspected me of being a drug dealer, they probably thought my paralysis was due to some kind of drug or horse tranquilizer.

The decision was made to send me to the mainland. A local fisherman was hired. Four hours later, I was carried to his boat. As I was being loaded, they dropped me. I believe it was the first time in my life that I have ever passed out from pain. The waves were treacherous, and with every bump I was a step closer to the gate of heaven. It took well over an hour to reach the mainland. When we arrived, I was loaded into the bed of an old pickup truck and taken to the city hospital in Pak Bara. The doctors did their best on assessing my injury. I was sent for x-rays. My poor body was being tossed and twisted on the table for at least two dozen times before I was told that the x-ray machine did not have film in it and they had to redo the whole frigging thing!

I was then loaded into an old ambulance and taken to a bigger hospital in the city of Hat Yai. Upon arrival, I was quickly assessed and after receiving both an MRI and CT Scan, it was determined that my 4th cervical vertebrae had been shattered; my C5 and C6 were compressed together. FINALLY, a C-collar was placed around my neck. I needed emergency surgery to assure my best chance of recovery, but I was worried that they did not have the best neurosurgeon for the job. Coincidentally, a top neurosurgeon from United States was in town giving a lecture that day! He played a big role in directing my surgery and ultimately, it was a success.

I remember waking from surgery gagging on the incubation tube placed in my throat and thinking at least I was alive. The doctor asked if there was anyone he could call for me and, soon after, I was finally connected with my family. Obviously frantic with worry and concern, they began making  arrangements to get me home. The doctors decided to transfer me to Bangkok. Two weeks into my recovery, I was propped up in my bed; and for the first time I was able to wiggle my big toe. I cried like a baby and made the bold statement that I would walk again. After four weeks, I was finally well enough to travel home to Toronto. I was immediately taken to Sunnybrook where I spent eight days, and then I was admitted to Toronto Rehab-Lyndhurst Center for 16 weeks of rehab.

As tough as my rehab was, going home was by far the toughest war I had ever faced. The physical challenges were overwhelming, but the mental and emotional obstacles were even worse. I went through all the stages of grief, as well as dealing with loss of dignity, invasion of personal space, loss of control, loneliness, regret, and pity. Fighting and defeating these battles took the greatest amount of strength and faith I could muster. . . I am now four years post injury. What slowly and gradually turned my life around was reaching out to my peers and being active in the SCI community. When I realized that I could still give and serve, I regained my purpose and meaning in life. Among the many advisory boards and projects that I am involved with right now, my greatest fulfillment comes from being a peer support volunteer at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. I surely hope that my story and resilience will inspire many to never give up and to fight courageously in their own battle. 

Sometimes I still think about the magnificent stars on the night when I lied on that beach. It was the dark sky that made their twinkles shining so brightly. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

the Light and the Way

 Image result for the light

Today, I had lunch with a lovely lady. We met a year ago in the hospital where I work at. She was an inpatient and we had a very interesting conversation about her near-death experience. Here is what I wrote about her in a previous post. 

. . .
This lady is an inpatient, she had her injury only a few weeks ago. She is a new comer from China, she doesn’t speak a lot of English. My colleague Ivan asked me to translate for him and become her peer support. I will call her Lee.

Lee told me that she was hit by a car while crossing the street. She had a head injury, a spinal cord injury, a wrecked shoulder and a broken pelvis. The doctor didn’t think she would make it and asked her husband to fly to Canada to prepare for her funeral. Her husband took the very next flight and didn’t even pack a luggage. As she was describing the chaos, I asked her, “did you see a light when you were in the coma?” Her eyes were wide open, “Yes! I remember, for a very long time, I saw this blinding light above my head, I was in this place that was just so, so, so bright, to a point where my eyes were hurt.”

“Did you see a colorful world?”
“No, it was just a place that was really bright.”
I asked again, “did you see a man?”
“I saw a figure wrapped in light. I think it was a woman.” 
“You sure it wasn't a man?”
“It was a woman.” (My Catholic friend told me that it was Mary)
“Were you at peace?”
“I had no fear, I just felt normal.”

What amazed her was, for days, she had been telling people about this experience, which she could not explain. Everyone around her kept on telling her that she was in a confused mental state. I was the first person who told her what she had experienced before she even brought it up
. . .

We reunited for the first time since her discharge. I could not even recognize her as she was walking toward me without any aids. Though people might not be able to tell if she has a disability, she told me that she still has a blood clot in her brain that can potentially trigger a stroke. One of her arms is partially paralyzed and her entire body is stiff.

We were having lunch together. And very quickly, we began to talk about her supernatural experience again. This time, she had even more to share. . . .

“When I first came to Canada, I really didn’t have any friends. My roommates were Christians and they brought me to a church retreat. At the time I didn’t have any knowledge about God and I was an atheist growing up. During the first and second day of the retreat, I was really bored and didn’t understand what they were saying. On the third day, I wanted to head back home, but my friends said that the agenda on this last day was the highlight of the entire retreat, in fact it was what others came here for. We had a preacher from the States, she was about to pray for everyone, one by one and she was going to give each person a prophecy of their life. I wanted to leave early so I lined up early and sat in the front row. Everyone had their phone out to record what the preacher was saying to them. Out of respect, I pulled out my phone but I realized that my battery was low. My friend used her phone to record my “session”.

The preacher is a white lady and she only speaks English. Both of us couldn’t understand a single word she was saying and she talked superb fast. We played the recording to another friend afterward. Her English was a little better, but all she could understand was the phrase ‘you will enter a deep sleep.’

At the time, I really didn’t believe in anything like that and didn’t give much thought. The retreat happened on the 2nd of that month, and I got hit by a car on the 21st of that month. I was in a comma for nearly 14 days.

While I was in the comma, my friend was completely overwhelmed by the fulfillment of that prophecy, she asked her son to dictate the entire audio word by word, and over and over until it was translated to its entirety. Basically, the prophecy was saying that I will enter a deep rest, I will be placed in an uncomfortable situation, I will be troubled, but I will be okay and I will rejoice again and God will protect me.

When I was out of the hospital, my friend came to visit me and brought up the audio tape and told me everything that she knew. That’s when I remember that when I was in that really really bright place, I heard a powerful voice rumbling and said, ‘you will be alright, you will rejoice again.’ Now that I have a better understanding about God, the “figure” I saw in that bright place was an angel with giant wings.

My friend and I are forever changed by this experience. Though I have so many problems with my health and I might die any time because of that blood clot, I have no fear, I am happy every day. My old friends in China always tell me how much they worry for me and how sorry they feel for me, I am so tired of explaining to them that I am fine, I am so joyful. They won’t understand it and I cannot even explain fully. ”

We had a superb long conversation that the diners sitting at our neighboring table changed three times. I also shared my experience with her and stories of other people that I know of.

I used to refrain myself from writing anything too “religious”. I don’t want to turn my readers off. But now I think that this is something that I must share freely and widely. At the end it is the most important aspect of one’s life and afterlife. If you are still with me at this point, please continue to read to the end.

One of my Mom’s friends made a very interesting comment the other day. He said that at his age, he has no drives, no aspirations, no dreams and no goals in life. There is no point fighting for anything, living for anything. The only thing that he hopes for is a good death. He hopes that he won’t be so sick when he gets even older, he won’t have to suffer before he dies, and he can die in his sleep. That is really sad. If you think about it, if this life is all you have, if this life is all that you believe in, then once you surpass the prime of your life, every day is a downhill, every day is closer to the day of your death. But for us who truly believe and live for God, we have hope in every life’s stage and situation. When we are at the end of our life, we have even better things to look forward to. As I said before, who cares if others say what we believe in is a delusion, we have already made the most out of this life by having a heavenly mindset.

Last week, 60 Minutes had a segment that talks about the Hubble telescope. It’s about to be replaced by the latest technology, another space telescope that will see even further into the vast universe. The program was sharing some of the photos that Hubble took. The scientists concluded that the number of stars and planets in the University is more than the grains of sand on earth! To the Creator of Universe, we are even smaller than an ant. Yet, He knows each of us by name. He looks after us, He cares for us and He died for us. That is a very humbling thought.

I guess my goal in this article is to help you become more aware of what is more than just this life. That’s an exciting thing to ponder over. And Jesus said, “Ask, you will receive; Seek, you will find; Knock and the door will open to you.” If you will just have an open heart and attitude to know God, try Him in prayers for all the right reasons, He will for sure reveal Himself to you. 


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Naked and NOT Afraid

This was a beautiful Saturday in June. The sun was radiating just the perfect amount of heat; the breeze made every girl's wavy long hair flow like Queen Bey's. If anyone was still depressed on a day like this, the weather was not to blame.

Chris took a stroll in Coronation Park. This would be his last stop before heading home. He knew too well why he was under the weather. He crossed the border to Toronto Canada to attend a conference that promised to be "inspirational" and "uplifting". Speakers shared their stories about overcoming depression, addiction and abusive relationships. Surely, their messages were powerful to some, but it didn't do much for Chris. He felt like no one could relate to what he was going through. His situation was rather, unique.

Chris had always been a fat kid growing up, but it never bothered him. He was fat in a proportional and adorable way. He really enjoyed eating, he was part of an exclusive foodie group that travels the continent searching for the most unusual cuisine. He was extremely popular, everyone thought that he had a wicked sense of humor. When he smiled, he had two deep dimples that girls like to poke playfully. His grandpa happened to be a rich man with "all the money in the world", bandits are well aware that fat people are hard to kidnap. He was so happy and proud being plus-sized, he could make a career by motivating others to love who they are and stay true to themselves. Who knows, he might stir up a revolution, become an inspiration, a sensation, an icon, a legend. . . But, everything changed about a year ago when his doctor gave him the ultimatum to lose weight. He had a fatty liver and he was borderline diabetic. At first, he was excited about the idea of a physical transformation. He was turning 28, perhaps it was time to let his "cuteness" go. In just eight months, he lost about 100 pounds with healthy diet and exercise. He was impressed by his own will power. But recently, he realized that he had become increasingly unhappy about his new body. First of all, he was still a fat person at heart. Whenever someone complimented him on his new look, he wasn't used to it. He thought that people were just being nice, and giving him credits for such "amazing" accomplishment. Secondly, he got kicked out of the foodie group since one of the membership criteria was to have a Body Mass Index of at least 28. Because he was on a lean diet for so long, many of his favorite food became too greasy and too meaty to him. His popularity also dropped when he made a few fat jokes on someone else's expense, it was funny before, but now he was accused of being fat shaming. His signature smile also degraded as his dimples became less remarkable. His new resting face was described as “mean” and “unapproachable”. The only seemingly positive thing was the unprecedented attention he received when he hit the club. But he never got to the point of leaving the club with someone, because he was insecure about what was hidden inside his garment. He hated his naked body, all the loosen skin, wrinkles, blemishes and imperfections. What was worse than a pair of ample man boobs was a pair of saggy man boobs. He never really cared about how he looked when he was fat, but now, he spends way too much time in front of the mirror, loathing what he sees. He really missed his Jonah-Hill days, that is, before Jonah Hill lost weight and is no longer Jonah Hill...

It was time to head back home. Chris walked toward the parking lot. All of the sudden, he heard a big commotion from the other side of the park. People were screaming, laughing and playing loud music. Chris went over and was dumbfounded when he saw a large group of naked cyclists congregated under the large Canadian flag. Some were doing body painting, some were decorating their bikes, others were taking group selfies, and the rest were just dancing and partying. There was a crowd of fully-clothed spectators engulfing them, having the best time ever. But honestly, shame on the two-dozen bikers who were overdressed: some might not dare to bare, but a handful of creepy-looking guys were feasting on the few girls with the perkiest figure. They were like wolves wearing sheep skins, sneaking into a flock of sheep that have just been thoroughly trimmed.

“Hey man, what is this about?" He asked a spectator standing closest to him.
“It's World Naked Bike Day, raising awareness about bike riding and other means of green transportation."
“Oh yes, hence the slogan on that man's back ‘less gas, more ass'."
“Dude, some of them should not be allowed to do this. In fact, 60 percent of them should keep it to themselves, for the sake of the public." The man chuckled. Chris totally agreed. Everywhere he looked, he saw sags and droops. Those were not your typical parents and grandparents. Compared to them, Chris's body is a wonderland. . . hmmmm. . . oh, hmmmm. . . ha! All of the sudden, Chris was intrigued by this crazy idea of joining the bikers. It could be exactly what he needs to overcome his problem. Really? Do I have the guts to pull it off? Why not? No body knows him in this city. And one thing he was grateful for was the fact that not every body part had been downsized. Oh, F*ck it, I am gonna do it! 

Chris went up to a man who looked like he was one of the leaders. “Can anyone join this? Do I have to register or something?"
“Of course, anyone can join. You don't even have to be an environmentalist. In fact, I drive a Hummer."
“Where are we heading to?"
“All the hot spots in downtown area, basically where the people are. There is a Bikeshare station over there, just take one of the Bixi bikes."

Chris was all pumped. He paid $12 and purchased a 24-hour bike pass. After entering the code, he took out the last bike from the rack. He hesitated for a good ten seconds, before stripping down to his birthday suit. Since he had no pockets on him, he locked all of his belongings in his car and tied his car key to his wrist. He Purelled his bike saddle before taking a seat. After a few adjustment, he finally found a comfortable position.

“ARE WE READY???!!!"
“YES!!!" Everyone honked at once and took the party to the heart of the city. Right away, Chris knew his boldness was rewarded. This nude army sent shock waves across the city. This wall of flesh was too overwhelming that people needed a moment to process. Eyes were popping, jaws were dropping, kids screaming, adults laughing, democrats cheering, conservatives judging. . . it was insane! Chris had not felt this happy and free for almost a year. It was like getting away with a crime. . .

An hour later, the fun still had not died down. But all of the sudden, Chris felt a jolt that almost knocked him off his bike. UH-OH, this is not good, not good. He got off to investigate and found that two of the spokes in his rear wheel had come off. He had a major equipment malfunction! This is bad, really bad, like, historically bad! He looked to his fellow bikers for help, but they just gave him a grim and moved on without even slowing down. Before long, everyone had passed by and he became the only nudist in the middle of the street. This corner of the city went silent. It dawned on him that his previous so-called “problem” was nothing compared to the here and now.

Christopher, breath, breath, think! don't panic, think! There must be another Bikeshare station nearby that he can switch bike. Chris lifted the rear wheel off the ground and carried his broken bike forward. He dared not confronting the looks of bystanders, he dared not tune into the laughter and honking. He tried to conquer his fear of “public presentation” by imagining everybody naked in the audience. He tried to “own it” by not displaying any panicky in his eyes. One thing for sure, no one was looking at his eyes. This was literally the worst day EVER!

After 5 minutes of brutality, he finally saw a Bikeshare station. There were plenty of bikes in the rack. Chris felt like he was stranded on an island for years and suddenly a rescue boat appeared on the horizon. He picked up his speed and reached the station in one breathe. Panting like a dog, he forcefully yanked the broken bike into its rack. After it was secured and locked, he let out a long and deep sigh. He went to the next bike. . . but. . . but. . . he couldn’t remember the 6-digit code that he purchased. He only had a two-second glance at the code, it never entered his memory! NO, NO, No, can this day get any worse?! Think Christopher, think, you dumbass!

When he had the stupid bike, at least 50 percent of the people understood the context, but without the bike, no one gets it! He was just a lunatic wandering on the street. And speaking about wandering on the street, he had no idea where he was and how to get back to Coronation Park, he got no phone, no money, no ID and literally nothing . . . endless sessions of psychotherapy were awaiting in his immediate future.

“Hey buddy, how’s hanging?” A powerful and joyful voice broke his misery. Chris turned around and saw a nudist in his golden years. His bike was the type of bike where the rider is reclining and paddling with their legs in an upward rotation. Basically, the same position when a woman is in labor. He looked like a Santa Claus on his sledge, taking fat and proud to another league.
“My bike is broken!” Chris cried out loud.
“It’s okay son, calm down. Let me help.” He got out of his bike. This was Christmas in June for Chris. “We should get you another bike.”
He turned to the crowd that congregated around them, “Does anyone here have a Bixi bike membership? Can we borrow it? It will be a quick ride. Anyone?” He was totally comfortable in his own skin; it actually made people turned away in embarrassment. Soon, a lady pulled out a Bixi key from her purse and unlocked one of the bikes. . .

On the way back to the park, the two were riding side by side. Chris was dead silent. He was traumatized beyond repair.
“Are you alright son?” The man asked.
“No. . .”
“Well, that’s not the spirit of a Nudist. Why do you think I was so behind everyone? I didn’t wanna share the glory! Ha-ha-ha!”
“I am not a Nudist. I am not an Environmentalist. I am just a loser.”
“Oh? Do you wanna talk about it?”
“Not really. . .”Chris paused, “I hate myself, more specifically, I hate my body. I just lost a lot of weight and for some reason, I am not happy, I don’t even know why.”
“You hate your body? What is it to hate? Son, I am a life-long Nudist, I have seen it all. Let me tell you, you are in the top 30 percentile!”
“Yes! How would you rate yourself in relation to everyone who is doing this today?”
“I would say 6.”
“Oh, you are so modest. You are a solid 8! In fact, you are stealing my thunder right now!”He continued, “The people in this event are a great representation of the general population. I would say you are well above average.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“Oh, I am. And besides, your eyes are beautiful.”
“Thank you! Really, thank you!”

Chris felt a lot better, not because he really believes he is an 8, but after this experience, he didn’t think it matters anymore. He realized that he could still enjoy life and do crazy things without looking fabulous; besides, he’s not even ugly or short or fat, what was he complaining about all along?

Chris finally crossed the finish line and couldn’t wait to go home. As he went back to his car and checked on his phone, his phone was flooded by missed calls and text messages. People were texting him and told him that he was trending on every social media platform. His mom was yelling at him with all letters in caps. He thought for two seconds, and replied to his best friend, “Can you get me an agent?”