It’s so hard to cope when those we love are in crisis. When their lives are in danger? It seems impossible. But guest Robin Patchen has faced such deep times, and come out of them with something she never expected: gratitude. Listen in as she shares how the deepest times of her life brought her a deeply grateful heart.
About Robin Patchen
Aside from her family and her Savior, Robin Patchen has two loves—writing and traveling. If she could combine them, she’d spend a lot of time sitting in front of her laptop at sidewalk cafes and ski lodges and beachside burger joints. She’d visit every place in the entire world—twice, if possible—and craft stories and tell people about her Savior. Alas, time is too short and money is too scarce for Robin to traipse all over the globe, even if her husband and kids wanted to go with her. So she stays in Oklahoma, shares the Good News when she can, and writes to illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story. Connect with Robin at robinpatchen.com.
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Karen: Hey, it’s time for being in the deep again with Erin Taylor Young and Karen Ball, and we’re just so glad that you’re joining us here. We have an amazing show planned for you. One that’s going to dig into something that seems almost impossible – and that’s a heart of gratitude when you’re in deep places. Wow, that’s tough to even contemplate, but our guest today, Robin Patchen, has been in some very deep places and came out of it with an unexpected gift, and that’s a heart of gratitude for God’s presence and what He does for us in the deep. So, Erin introduce our wonderful guest.
Erin: You hear that guys, right? I get to do the introduction. And that’s because I’ve known Robin for a long time. I’ve known Robin for over a decade now, and she is the award winning author of eight novels. By the way, they’re great books, you guys. Just last night I was teaching a class—a publishing class—and I was using an example from one of Robin’s books, so there you go. She’s also a wife, a mom, a freelance editor, and again by the way, she’s a great editor. I know because she’s worked for me, and she’s worked for Serenade Books, and many others. But most of all Robin loves to share stories that reflect the unending grace of God. And she lives them too, as you’re going to find out more about in our podcast. I’ve come to know Robin as a woman of insight and wisdom and deep faith. And we are delighted to have her with us today. Welcome Robin!
Robin: Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Karen: Don’t you sound good in our introduction? We always make our guests sounds so amazing. That’s because they are! But we really do make them sound good.
Robin: I was sitting here wondering who are they talking about?
Karen: I saw how your eyes kept getting—friends we can see Robin on a video—and I could see how her eyes were getting wider and wider.
Erin: But you know what, you guys? This is the thing. We don’t always have an accurate picture of ourselves and the way others see us. That’s one of the beautiful things about friendship and about being able to see yourself through someone else’s eyes. It’s a really cool thing to have that happen. Okay, Robin, we’re going to put you on the spot because we love to do that. This is the show about deep. What does the deep mean to you, Robin?
Robin: It’s so interesting because I’ve been in a lot of hard places, a lot of trials, over the last years of my life. But to me the deep isn’t really about that. It’s about being in a place of intimacy with God, whether you’re in times of trials or not. I think my goal is to live in the deep with God regardless of what’s going on in my life, whether it’s good things or bad things.
Karen: That’s very good.
Erin: I think that’s great. That’s so hard too. I mean so many of us are like, okay, we’re hurting where’s God? Okay, we’re in trouble, where’s God? And it’s like, okay, things are great, I don’t know who God is right now. It’s like we just go somewhere else when that happens.
Robin: For me it’s easier to forget God and climb out of the deep on my own when things are going well. Maybe that’s why He keeps me in those trials so much. I need to learn to be in the deep with Him even when my life is not out of control. Maybe that would help. I don’t know.
Karen: So why don’t you talk to us about some of the most recent struggles. You’ve been through something really tough, and you did this amazing blog about it all. When we read that and when we talked with you recently in Oklahoma City where we were speaking at a writers gathering, share with us the things that you’ve been through recently.
Robin: Well, it was an interesting summer.
Karen: She’s like the queen of understatement.
Robin: On July 13, this past summer, my 19-year-old daughter was at a friend’s house, and she fell down a flight of stairs. It was an outdoor apartment staircase. It was concrete. She landed on concrete. And she landed on her hands, which was a good thing because she didn’t land on her head or on her back. But bad because she crushed both her wrists. And she broke her sternum, which was the least of our problems although it did become quite painful. So she came home from hospital, I picked her up, and she had a cast on one arm—her left arm—from fingertips to bicep, and on her other arm from fingertips to elbow. So she could bend her right but couldn’t even bend her left. They were both so painful at first that she literally couldn’t dress herself. She couldn’t pour herself a glass of water. She could do nothing for herself. That was awful and very, very difficult to deal with.
Three days later, on July 16, it was Monday, and we got a call at 9:20 at night. My 16-year-old son, who’d been visiting my sister in Utah—we live in Oklahoma—so my sister called me at 9:20, and she said the boys had been in a terrible accident, they were being life-flighted to Salt Lake City, and she said, “They’re alive and they’re both talking and that’s all I know.” And she said, “We’re on our way to the hospital. We’ll call you when we get there.”
It was the most awful—really at the time it felt like the most awful phone call a person can get. Of course it’s not, because they were alive. But it was terrifying. It was the most interesting experience because I was standing in the kitchen. I had been texting with a friend about getting together for lunch and watching some stupid TV show. I was standing in the kitchen taking this phone call and I literally—I didn’t fall—but I went to my knees, and then I went to my hands and knees, and then I went straight down—I’m not going to cry talking about it—I went straight down to my face. I was lying on my not terribly clean kitchen floor. You know how that writer’s brain, you know like 95% of you is engaged in the moment, and 5% of you is like, this is really weird. I should remember this.
Karen: And that 5% is taking notes: “…so I need to say the kitchen floor wasn’t clean…”
Robin: Yeah for that 5% it’s like you’re really strange, or maybe…I don’t know. So anyway, I’m on the floor and I see my husband and my daughter. I don’t know what I said that drew them in from the other room but clearly I said something because they were both standing there, my daughter with her casts and my husband, like, “What’s happened?”
I managed to say what my sister had told me, which was not anywhere near enough information. We knew nothing. It was bad enough that they were being taken by helicopter. That’s what we knew. And we knew nothing else. I mean, I could talk about this for hours, but I won’t. I will tell you what we found out about the accident, my son had just drifted a little off to the right and overcorrected. So he spun the car. He jerked the wheel to the left and spun the car out. They hit the lip on the other side, and it flipped three times side over side, and then somehow shifted and flipped—the investigator said—at least three more times end over end. And it landed on his arm. So the windows all broke, of course, and the whole car was crushed. And it landed I think on the side, and his arm was pinned out the window so… the amazing and miraculous thing is that the people who had been following them for 10 miles, of course, stopped. And the guy driving was a former army medic, and his wife was a nurse.
Karen: Holy cow!
Robin: And I always think about that because I feel like I was sitting there watching TV and texting with my friend saying, “Should we have lunch next week?” I had no idea that that was happening. But the Lord was ahead of us. He was right there. If people hadn’t been there and pulled him out, it’s very likely that he would not have survived. Because both of his lungs had collapsed. He couldn’t breathe. He was spitting up blood. They kept turning him over so that he could spit that blood out and not breathe it in. It’s a miracle that he survived.
And so many things… I mean all these people stopped in the middle of the desert in Utah. Jacob says the first memory he had was that he woke up and there were people everywhere. There were enough people there that they lifted this crushed Land Rover off of him. They pulled him out of the car. All these people from who knows where. My sister got a call from one of the witnesses who said that he had left his house that night furious with his family. Just left in a total huff and got on the highway and came on that accident and was out there helping them, and then immediately went right home. So it’s like the Lord just orchestrated all these things to protect our boys. I’m getting choked up talking about it.
Karen: We’re getting choked up listening so it’s only fair! The thing that amazes me is what you said. There you are living your life not thinking about anything beyond a television show and texting a friend, and Almighty God who sees beginning to end is there protecting your son and protecting your nephew. And supplying all these people. The thing my writer’s brain went to as I’m listening is I wonder how many people were actually guardian angels that God had sent out?
I love the way that He moved in that guy’s life—that he left his family furious, saw this, realized what was really important, and went back to his family. And probably grabbed his wife and his kids and held onto them. We look at these dark places, and we look at these frightening events, and we think this is so terrible. Yet in the midst of it, look at all the stuff that God did. All of the the impact, and the people who were there, and the care by the medical folks. How can we ever doubt that He is with us in the deep places? And that He has gone before and behind. How can we ever doubt that?
Robin: That’s right. It’s so interesting because it all depends on your perspective. Because my sister lives in Utah and we live here. Our boys are best friends. But I haven’t lived near her in 10 years. So it’s just very unusual to walk through this really difficult time with her and her husband and my husband. And her little girls were there too. And to see how everybody reacted to it. My sister and I are both sort of the same. We just kept looking at each other while the boys were in hospital like, “Can you believe this?” And from our perspective it was like, wow.
Doctors and nurses would come in and they would introduce themselves—the boys were at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, which was the absolute best place they could possibly have been, which was also not an accident, it was exactly where they needed to be—the doctors would come in and the first thing they would say was always, “I’m so sorry we have to meet under these circumstances.” And I was always like, “Why? I’m thrilled that you’re here, and I’m freaking thrilled that I am here because that could have gone much differently.”
So my sister and I were just constantly marveling at all the things that the Lord had done. And yet others in our party didn’t see it that way. They weren’t looking for the Lord’s hand in it and therefore they didn’t see the Lord’s hand in it. Does that make sense?
Karen: It does. So much of what we talk about here is about the condition of your heart, and how necessary it is to prepare your heart for taking this writing journey with God. Because you never know what you’re going to encounter. And if your heart isn’t focused on, and based in Him, then when things happen, you’re going to look at the events and that’s what you’re going to measure reality by, rather than being able to see and recognize God’s hand and His movement and His protection in the midst of it all. So yeah, it makes a lot of sense. When we’re not focused and based in God, we don’t see Him. It’s like the Scripture always says, let those who have eyes to see, see, and ears to hear, hear. And that’s that we cultivate before, after, and in the midst of being those deep places.
Erin: The interesting thing, Robin, is that you had even more challenges to that because, as you said, three days prior your daughter had gotten two casts on her arms, and she can’t do anything for herself. I mean seriously, I would have been like, “Really God? Really?” Because it’s challenging enough to be dealing with that teenage daughter at home and then all of a sudden you’ve got to go to your other son who’s states away, and you had to leave her behind. How did that go?
Robin: That was absolutely awful. She was so good about the whole thing. She really was. My blessed mother, I love her to pieces, she turns her phone off when she goes to bed. That’s because she doesn’t have little kids she has to worry about. So she has no idea. The first flight out of Oklahoma City, we were on. We left at like 6 AM, and we got a direct flight, so we’re calling her on the way to the airport. Maybe it was eight. And she answers the phone like, “Hey, honey, how are you?”
Everybody else in the family knows because they have seen all our text messages. That’s another thing that you do when you know that you have a God. You tell everybody you know to please pray right now.
Robin: We’re texting and calling and emailing like crazy. Everybody I knew who would pray, knew about it that night. So I was like, “We’re going to the airport, and we’re going to Salt Lake City, and you have to take care of my daughter. I hope you’re okay with that.” And my mother was like, “I’m on it.”
We had friends who brought food and took care of them. But yeah, the part of that that was so hard was that my daughter had to have surgery. So we had been in the hospital, this was like maybe day eight of Jacob in the hospital, and they had to go to pre-opp, we hadn’t done any of that because it was on a Friday. My mother went to the pre-opp with the surgeon, and she managed it all. She scheduled it, and she took Lexi in to have the surgery. And after the surgery my daughter says to me—I knew we were exactly where we needed to be—says to me, “I want to talk to my mom.” My mother called me, and she was crying, Lexi was crying, I was crying. My poor husband is like patting me on the back, “It’s going to be okay, honey.” And he was probably thinking, “Oh heavens, here we go, crazy women…” That was really hard. She had to get over this surgery ,she had all the medications, and my mother who’s, you know, older, she managed it. It all worked out. But that is not how I would have written it up if it had been my choice.
Erin: This is the epitome of making it worse for your character and then worse yet! What I love about what you said, Robin, is that your first task was to go write to everybody and ask them for prayer. I have to believe that that was a big piece of your attitude, and everything that happened with your mom being able to take care of your daughter, and all of those things going on. We don’t think about how important prayer is sometimes. We undervalue it. But that is the best thing we can do. And it’s clear that that affected your ability to be thankful and your gratitude. Talk a little bit about how something like this affects you now as a writer.
Robin: It’s interesting. It’s not just the past trials. The last five years my family has gone through trial after trial after trial. If I said them all out loud you guys would think I was…it’s not the kind of thing you can put your character through because no one would believe it.
Robin: Of course, that’s why I was able to have that thankfulness and to immediately go to prayer now this summer because I’ve had five years of practice, of saying, “Okay, there is a God. And He’s been training me for five years to look at trials as an opportunity to grow closer to Him.”
All of it has helped me as a writer because, for one thing, I have learned that I am doing this for a reason, and He has called me to do it. So regardless of what I’m going through, I keep writing. That’s what I do. Like, that’s what I’m supposed to do, so that’s what I do. There’s no excuse to quit. Obviously this summer I took a long break. I wasn’t writing at that point, but yeah, it’s what I do. So that’s one thing. But also I think that it just helps me to dig deeper into what my characters go through. When I put them through trials, I have a lot more experience of what it feels like, the other side of that.
Karen: I think going through it ourselves, if we’re willing then to be honest about the struggle and honest about our emotions, we can bring an authenticity to the page that we couldn’t otherwise do.
I remember when my husband and I were separated, and it was just a terrible, terrible time. I had been through some pretty extensive emotional abuse. Nothing that he intended, but things that he had been trained through a lifetime of abuse to do. A gal came up behind me, one of the other employees at the publishing house where I was working, and she said, “Of course you realize you can never get married again. If you and your husband divorce, you can never get married again because God won’t bless that.” And I remember—other than wanting to belt her—I remember thinking to myself, “You poor woman, you have never suffered in your life. You don’t understand what it is to walk these dark roads with Jesus and with God, and to be on your face before Him.”
I just looked at her, then turned and walked away. I didn’t even say anything. It was just a revelation to me of how vitally important it is for us to go through these times and have an honest understanding of what it is to hold on to God in the midst of the the times when the foundation of what we thought we knew, and who we thought we were, gets shaken.
Erin: what helped to hold on, Robin? You said you’d been in training for so long, but what helped you? I’m sure you’ve had times of discouragement, how did God train you? What worked? What did it?
Robin: I think that the most important things for me have been having a consistent time with the Lord regardless of what’s going on in my life, because sometimes it’s just easy to say today’s not a good day. My son was in the hospital for 10 days. He was in ICU for seven. I don’t know if you’ve ever had somebody in ICU, but they don’t care—day or night, it’s irrelevant. If you’re sleeping in the hospital, you’re not sleeping in the hospital. And yet every single day he was there, I opened my Bible at least once and read at least one chapter of something, because that’s where the truth is. Even though most days it was a psalm, and frankly most days it was the same psalm. My favorite, you know? So that’s a really big part of it for me, just spending time with the Lord. And memorizing Scripture. And having those things to hang on to.
But I also think that if you don’t believe what the Bible says and trust that God’s going to come through and He’s really there, I sort of liken it to if you’re walking through the woods. Like you guys both love animals, right?
Robin: If you guys are walking through the woods, you’re looking for animals because that’s the way you are. You’ve got your eyes open for a deer or an elk or a squirrel. Or you’re looking for rabbit holes, or whatever. You have your eyes open for that. And a bird lover is walking through the woods with his eyes up and his ears open listening for a bird’s song and trying to find that bird. If you believe, you don’t walk through Walmart looking for wildlife—
Karen: Well that depends on what kind of wildlife you’re talking about. This is Oregon, so…
Robin: That’s a good point, okay…but anyway, because you don’t believe you’re going to find wildlife in Walmart. If you’re walking through a trial looking for God, it’s because you believe you’re going to find God in the trial. If you don’t go into it with the faith that He’s going to be there, you’re going to miss it. You’re going to miss Him in those places. So I think the training in the last five years for me has come from learning that God is in every single trial and looking for Him. And when I look, I always find Him.
Karen: Robin, that’s a good word—to be focused on and looking for God even when things are hard and frightening. And to be doing it like we talked about earlier, when things are going well. Robin, thank you so much for coming and spending time with us. For sharing your experiences. I for one am grateful that God has given you a grateful heart in the midst of the deep. And that you can share your experiences with us, and with our listeners, and with so many others to bring about the reality of understanding God’s presence with us no matter what we’re going through, and our need to be grounded in Him and established in our faith. And to be looking for Him. So, for those of you looking, keep your eyes open. Keep your ears and your heart open. Listen for Him. Watch for Him, because I guarantee you, as Robin has told us, He’s there before we even know we need Him.
We want to hear from you!
Does gratitude come easy for you? What helps you have a thankful heart?
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