Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Two Promises

Three years ago, the world crashed down around our family when our eldest daughter suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm and stroke. While she was on a respirator at the hospital, my husband and I took a short respite from round-the-clock sentry duty to attend the wedding of our friend’s daughter.

The outside wedding was in the afternoon in Florida. Afternoon weather in Florida is known to be unpredictable. Often, it rains without much warning. This afternoon was typical for Florida.

The rain started with a trickle and soon became a deluge threatening to move the ceremony inside. All the guests were seeking refuge under a nearby park shelter.

I stood with a friend from the church as we waited out the storm. Denise and I engaged in small talk about the weather, and we both wondered out loud if the ceremony would be moved. As we talked, it occurred to me that we each seemed preoccupied. The gloomy weather matched our private gloom, and the weather conversation masked the personal storms we were each facing.

The awkwardness of our conversation was broken by the easing of the storm as the rain began to subside. It wasn’t long before it cleared up and the sun made a feeble attempt at shining.

“Maybe they will be able to have the ceremony outside after all,” I said to Denise. “We should both say a prayer that God will send us a rainbow!”

I didn’t need to elaborate. Denise knew what I was saying. It was no secret that we each needed soul calming. Denise’s husband and my daughter were both facing an uncertain future. Miguel, Denise’s husband, had just been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and Jenn, my daughter, was not breathing on her own or responding to anyone.

After the chairs had been dried off and the guests seated, the ceremony began without a hitch. The bride and groom stood under a huge banyan tree as mist from the rain-shrouded them. It was a beautiful scene. From where I sat, I was able to gaze just above the tree into the cloudy sky. The clouds hung so low I was certain that we’d be soaked at any moment. Selfishly, I prayed for a rainbow before the sky opened up again.

No rainbow appeared.

I halfheartedly watched the ceremony as my mind drifted to my daughter’s hospital bed. It wasn’t long before my eyes began to water and I couldn’t stop my salty raindrops. My tears weren’t tears of joy for the bride and groom. They were tears of despair. I desperately wanted God to answer my prayer!
As I stood to leave, I glanced one more time at the sliver of the sky over the banyan tree. It was at that instant that the rainbow came into view. I was momentarily overwhelmed by the sight of it. My husband had to grab my arm to keep me from falling over.

“You okay?” He asked nervously.

“Do you see it!” I pointed to the sky.

“What?” He asked.

“The rainbow!” I said as raindrops started pelting us.

My husband grabbed my arm and started hurrying me toward the shelter.

“I didn’t see any rainbow.” He said as we reached the shelter.

“Well, I did!” I said stubbornly. “I prayed for the rainbow, and I saw it! I know that Jenn is going to be okay because God sent it!”

Later, at the reception, Denise and Miguel were tearing up the dance floor. To look at them, you’d never know that Miguel just received devastating news about his health. I kicked off my shoes, grabbed my husband and made my way to the dance floor to join them. Soon, we were all dancing as if none of us had a care in the world.

As the crowd gathered on the dance floor, I danced my way close to Denise. Over the din of the party, I asked her if she saw the rainbow. Denise smiled at me, grabbed my hand and led me over to the edge of the dance floor where we wouldn’t be knocked over by the swaying mob.

“Yes, Betty, but there wasn’t just one - there were two rainbows!” She laughed.

“You’re kidding!” I yelled over the music.

“No!” She yelled back. “I’m not kidding. It was a double rainbow! It was only there for a minute, but I saw it!”

Some might say that God doesn’t exist. Some might say that He doesn’t make or keep promises. Some might even say that God has nothing to do with rainbows. All I know is that God answered two prayers that day with two promises.

God chose to color Denise's and my grief. At the moment he sent that double rainbow, He brightened our darkest hour. God knows when and how to answer prayer. Sometimes He whispers. Sometimes He shouts. Sometimes He’s silent, and sometimes He makes us open our eyes to the promise of the rainbow.

God never promised a life without pain or sorrow. God never promised sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears and light for the way. The day of two rainbows was the day that God promised something good will always come from the storms of life.

God gave my daughter a new life. It isn’t the life we wanted for her or one she would have chosen for herself. She could be miserable, but she is grateful for the blessing of each new day and thankful that she can live a full life even from a wheelchair.

God gave Denise and Miguel three more happy years together: Three more years of time with their family and friends and three more years of dancing.

We are commanded to give thanks IN all circumstances - not FOR all circumstances. It is not always easy to be thankful. Sometimes, we don’t want to thank God!

I went to my friend’s wedding feeling less than thankful. I left the wedding with a promise of God’s faithfulness. I was reminded that a spirit of thankfulness is something we must always keep close to our hearts. We learn life lessons when our hearts are thankful - especially in the tough times.

Today, although my heart is heavy, I am thankful that God’s promise is fulfilled. Miguel is now with Jesus in heaven, and we can all rest easy knowing that he will have eternal life.



















Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Indomitable Will

Creak, scrape, creak, scrape; the repetitive sound makes its way down the florescent lit hallway as the walker slowly advances over the spit-polished hospital floor.   The movement is slow but steady as each step is carefully maneuvered to keep the walker from zigzagging off course.  The final destination is only about 15 feet away - a meandering tortoise might reach the door quicker, but nothing will get in the way of Jenn’s determination.  She WILL walk into this room even if it takes her all day to do it!  Creak, scrape, creak scrape; almost there!  The smile on her face belies the struggle it takes to make this journey.

With each creak and scrape, I film the slow progress, and my heart feels as though it might burst with joy.  I know this struggle all too well.  I know how long it took to get here to this day, this hour...this moment.

Jenn’s struggle started almost two years ago.  No one ever thought that the day would come when she would push her walker down the hall.  Certainly no one thought it would be this soon!  Creak, scrape, creak, scrape; her smile lights up her entire face.  Jenn’s Aunt Patty is behind her - as always, the ever-present encourager.

On she goes.  Her braced leg has a mind of its own; wayward and helter-skelter it tries to veer off course.  Jenn doesn’t give in.  Jenn doesn’t give up.  Jenn doesn’t allow her impetuous leg to rue the day.  This day is extraordinarily special!

The door to his room is just ahead.  He doesn’t know she is coming.  If he hears her, he probably suspects it’s just one of the many mechanical assistant machines almost everyone in this wing of the hospital uses.  He would have no reason to suspect that the person operating the contraption was anyone of any specific interest.

I move to the door of his room.  I’m shaking.  The tears are flowing now - I can’t help it.  I’m about to open the door to Gavin’s room.  Courageous Gavin.  Fearless Gavin.  Audacious Gavin.  Gavin the brave!

There’s no describing Gavin - Just like there’s no describing Jenn.  In this cosmos, God found a way to put these two indomitable spirits together. Together, they each faced insurmountable odds and, together, each triumphed.

Gavin was Jenn’s first-grade student - her favorite (she always reminds me).  He was born with Cerebral Palsy and faced many obstacles in his young life.  I like to think that Jenn was chosen to be his teacher because of her special way with children who face challenging situations.  I have no doubt that God's mighty hand was at work when Gavin became her special charge.

Although Gavin is now nine, he has kept in touch with Jenn over the years. Jenn taught with Gavin’s grandmother and he often visited Jenn in her room before and after school.  When Jenn suffered her brain aneurysm, Gavin frequently came to the hospital.  He always told me that someday he and Mrs. “P” would do physical therapy together.

There were days when we had doctors tell us that Jenn’s prognosis was very bleak - but Gavin the brave would always tell me that Mrs. “P” was going to get better and would walk again someday.  He never wavered in his belief that he would one day walk side by side with his teacher.

Over this past year, Gavin has had some major surgeries.  We learned that Gavin was going to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa for his most recent surgery.  Since Jenn goes to Tampa General for her outpatient therapy, I called Gavin’s grandma and asked her if we could stop and see Gavin at St. Joseph’s on Monday.  We were already on the road, and I expected that we could visit Gavin after Jenn was done with her therapy.

Imagine my surprise when Gavin’s grandma told me that he had been transferred to Tampa General Children’s wing for therapy!  Jenn was so excited to learn that Gavin was right next door to the building where she does her therapy!  Not only that, but Jenn had put on her “team Gavin” tee shirt that morning!

It’s a good thing that I called Gavin’s grandma on Monday because, in true Gavin fashion, he was already amazing all the doctors at Tampa General with his determination and grit.  They were already talking about an early release since Gavin had made such tremendous progress.  This last surgery was very serious because it involved his spine.  He wasn’t expected to walk for at least three weeks.  However, the day of his surgery, he stood.  The day after his surgery, he walked.

Now, this day, this hour, this moment has come.  I open the door.  Gavin’s face lights up as Jenn appears in his doorway.  She gradually makes her way step by step into his room.  Gavin sits up.  Slowly, painfully he moves to place both feet on the floor.  Then, taking his father’s hand, Gavin stands.

Deliberately Gavin places one foot in front of the other and haltingly walks over to his teacher. Each of them has walked a path that few of us will ever have the privilege to experience.  They have traversed rugged terrain not meant for the faint of heart.  Many people grow weary from life's struggles, but Gavin and Jenn never become disheartened.  Jenn’s favorite word is “perfect, ” and Gavin’s favorite saying is, “never give up.”  They are the perfect never give up team.  I’ve learned from them that facing trials is about the fight in your heart as well as the heart in your fight.  As Gandhi so aptly put it: Strength does not come from physical capacity; it comes from indomitable will.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Slippers

I opened my top drawer this morning to find three pairs of ugly tread socks staring up at me.  No regular socks.  No underwear.  No bras.  Only these reminders of two hellacious weeks in a hospital bed listening to the constant presence of the beep...beep...beeping machine reminding me that my broken heart was at least beating for now. 

“Why is my underwear not in here?”  I thought to myself.  Then, I answered my question, “Because you’re too sick to do your laundry!” 

“Damn slippers!”  I shouted as I slammed the dresser drawer.

Anger seems to be my constant companion these days.  I can’t say that I was furious at the slipper socks.  I might not have even been infuriated about the fact that I couldn’t do laundry.  I hate doing laundry, after all. 

No, the anger isn’t at the slippers.  It’s at the slipping.  It’s at the slipping away of my life as I knew it.  It’s at the slipping away of my daughter’s life as she knew it.  The anger is deep.  It is a level five on a river of rapids that ram helmeted thrill-seekers into jagged rocks at will.  

Slippers keep you from slipping, but I’m not slipping.  I’m tumbling.  I could put the hospital slippers on, yet I have to wonder if they will protect me from the fall of my life?  When your life is tumbling and falling, what do you do?  Do you slam drawers and curse at inanimate objects?  I do.  I find myself yelling at dishes that I can’t pick up to put away because they are too heavy.  I find myself cursing the bed sheets for not putting themselves on the bed.  I scream at the vacuum because it is not an iRobot Roomba on autopilot that knows the carpet needs cleaning. 

Screaming at inanimate objects is uncomplicated.  They never yell back at you or argue.  No matter what I say to the dreaded tread socks, they just sit in the drawer silently taking my abuse.  The dishes do nothing unless I throw them.  The vacuum remains still.  Screaming at people isn’t as trouble-free.  I’ve learned the hard way that bubbling anger should never boil over onto spouses, children or anyone else that happens to be in the line of fire. 

I know that anger breeds indiscriminately.  If I’m not careful, there’ll be anger bunnies hopping all over this house competing with the dust bunnies that I cannot vacuum up.  How does one herd rabbits?  I guess I could google it.  I suppose I could put on my tread socks and chase the anger, but it might strain my heart too much. 

I could write about my anger, but that would give life to it.  Wait a minute; I am writing about it.  I am angry that my life has been taken from me.  I am angry that Jennifer, my beautiful daughter is struggling to get her life back.  I am angry!  I am angry that I cannot pick up Jennifer’s daughter, my granddaughter and hold her like I used to. 

I am even more outraged that Jennifer cannot pick up her daughter because she is paralyzed on her left side.  The thought of Jennifer’s daily struggles breeds those anger bunnies in me to the point where I cannot escape their floppy-eared presence and thumping feet...thump thumping in my brain.  I see them.  I feel them.  I cry over them. 

Should I feed them?  Should I feed the anger bunnies?  Should I give them more and more fodder by writing about them?  No.

I could give in to the anger.  I could succumb to the slipping.  I could put on the hospital slippers as a constant reminder of my broken heart.  I could continue to yell at all the things that remind me of what used to be.  I could yell at all the people who remind me of what I cannot do.  I could grieve regularly, but what would that accomplish? 

Yes, I’ve lost a lot, but what have I gained besides three pairs of hospital slippers?  I have gained a new perspective on life.  When I’m not angry, I’m grateful and even hopeful.  When I’m not chasing anger bunnies, I’m chasing a bright future full of cute little donkeys that make me smile. 

I have lost so much.  Jennifer has lost so much.  There is no escaping that fact.  Dwelling on that fact could cause me to spend the rest of my days trying to herd anger bunnies.  I don’t know, but I’m guessing that herding rabbits is a futile endeavor - even if you’re wearing non-slip slippers. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bud

His greeting was always the same, “Hey, Little Bit”, followed by a big bear hug.  I guess I was “little bit” to him, standing five foot tall (on tippy toes) next to his six feet.  I thought of him more like a dad than a friend.  He became such an intricate part of our family that the kids thought of him as Grandpa Bud. 

We could always count on Grandpa Bud to be in the cheering section of every sporting event for each of our kids (even though he didn’t know a lick about sports).  Grandma Carol, on the other hand, loves sports and made valiant efforts to instill a love of sports in Grandpa Bud.  She claims she gave up after Bud asked her one day while watching an NFL football game, how many of the guys had last names of “Riddell” (the helmet manufacturer). 

Bud entered our lives when our kids were little and remained with us as our family grew and grew with foster and adoptive children.  It is fitting that our children were in his and Carol’s wedding as flower girls and ring bearers (God knows we had enough kids to make up two bridal parties!).  The circle of life came full circle when Bud and Carol represented the grandparents at our daughter’s wedding. 

He always made each of our kids feel special and loved.  He was a man of few words, but he never missed an opportunity to speak encouragement at the dance recital or the graduation.  His gentle kindness won the trust of Nurjahan, our little girl from Bangladesh, who was terribly burned by acid.  In her culture, it was forbidden to be alone in a room with a man who was not a relative.  Over time, she would sit on Grandpa Bud’s lap while he read her stories. 

If I were asked to come up with one word to describe Bud, it would be gentle.  He was always gentle and kind.  I never heard him raise his voice or utter a mean word to anyone.  He was also fun. 

For a man his age, he was up for anything.  We’ve been on camping trips, hiking in mountains, tubing and canoeing.  I’ll never forget the time he was canoeing with my daughter, Jennifer and the canoe tipped.  Carol and I were not very compassionate as we laughed our heads off!  Then, we realized Bud couldn’t swim, and his hat and hearing aids were floating down the river!  All was not lost, though and we managed to rescue Bud and his belongings. 

I have so many wonderful memories of Bud.  I feel so blessed to have had him and Carol in our lives all these years.  He lived a good, honorable life.  He loved his country and served in the military in WWII.  When he wore his WWII veteran hat, he was often approached by strangers that just took the time to say, “thank you.”  I want to take the time to say “thank you.”  Thank you, Bud for the joy you brought into our lives.  Thank you for your loving ways.  Thank you for always being there for my family.  Thank you for teaching me that gentleness and kindness are a sign of great strength of character.  You will be greatly missed and always treasured. 

Someday, I hope to hear that greeting again, “Hey Little Bit!”  Until then, rest in God’s arms my dear friend.


In Loving Memory
Bud Treiber
April 1, 1922 - October 8, 2015


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bathing Soup and Sun Scream

Something magical happens when “grandma” appears in your name.  Actually, in my case, the name is “Nana”.  To some, nana conjures up images of an old lady sitting in a rocking chair reading books and singing to a content toddler in her lap.  Not this Nana!  This Nana is very busy indeed.  There are the few times when a good book and a comfy rocking chair serve their purpose for a few seconds.  But when three-year-old Devyn is in the house, we’re more likely to be rocking and rolling than rocking and dozing.

Magically, Nana’s knee finds a way to keep up the pace.  My energy level gets a boost out of nowhere and I can Nay Nay and Whip my way into a frenzy dancing to Janis Joplin on the old record player.  There is no slide too tall nor fort too low for Nana.  The super-human strength even holds up when Devyn suddenly has to ride on Nana’s shoulders during the longest hike into the pasture to find the elusive crowing rooster. 

What is it about being a Nana that brings out this “magical” vigor?  I think it is a mixture of bathing soup and sun scream.  Every time Devyn and I are together we laugh.  We laugh our way through Miss Devyn’s Whip and Nay Nay dance lessons.  We laugh as we sail over rough seas in our homemade couch yacht.  We laugh at bubble bath beards and edible cow pies (Devyn’s favorite imaginary snack).  There is nothing too crazy for Nana and Devyn: between finding the hippopotamus hiding in the closet to dragging the giraffe out from under the bed, we laugh our way through the day. 

When I was a kid, I used to spend summers at the Jersey Shore in Atlantic City with my grandmother.  We’d spend hours on the beach making elaborate drip castles - just me and grandma.  It seemed that time stood still during those hours that we let the sand drip off our fingers creating beautiful castles for imaginary princes and princesses.   Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just dripped our castle - no words necessary. 

There are days I wish that I could gather up those grains of sand and turn them into seconds.  If I did, I bet I would have enough seconds to fill up another lifetime with my grandma.  She didn’t watch the clock worrying that we were frittering away our time.  Even though she had arthritic fingers, she never once told me that we needed to stop building drip castles.  She knew the secret of grandma strength - laugh, dream, imagine and love.

Today, I was getting Devyn ready for a day at the beach with Nana.  As we were gathering up our pails and shovels for our drip castles, Devyn reminded me that she needed to get her bathing soup on and that I need to pack the sun scream.  I laughed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fractured

Perhaps the most convincing evidence of the moral decay of our country is the abhorrent practice of selling baby body parts by Planned Parenthood.  The recent videos released by The Center for Medical Progress spotlight the callousness by which Planned Parenthood’s representatives describe the procurement and distribution processes as though they are describing collecting and retailing auto parts. 

We, as a nation have a moral obligation to awaken from our self-induced stupor, shake off the inertia and do something to stop this atrocity.  We are becoming a nation enslaved by the radical few espousing all things disparate to Judeo-Christian values. 

Americans don’t need to look very far into our history to find one of the radical few.  Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is a perfect example of a fervent radical who pushed her beliefs on our society.  She radically restructured the conscience of this nation while the majority of the citizenry slumbered. 

Margaret Sanger enthusiastically embraced eugenics.  She referred to blacks as “human weeds” and “reckless breeders” and espoused racial purification.  In her writings, she frequently stated that she wanted to, “protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit.”  She was diabolical in her pursuit of eradicating “bad stocks” (poor, minorities, physically and mentally challenged).  Today she is hailed as a great women’s rights advocate. 

I wonder how advocating for human rights has warped into the grotesque practice of harvesting and selling baby body parts?  We hear time and time again from supporters of Planned Parenthood how the rights of the mother are paramount to the rights of the unborn child.  They choose to overlook to overwhelming evidence of Planned Parenthood’s illegal practices.  Meanwhile, the majority of Americans who do not support these appalling practices, remain silent.

So, how did it happen?  How did a great nation that believes in God, liberty, the unalienable rights of citizens of all ages become a nation dominated by the radical few?  I’ll tell you how - divide and conquer.  Margaret Sanger knew this.  She knew that she could never convince our great nation to engage in eugenics, so she divided us into two groups of men and women.  Then, she appealed to the women and made birth control an issue of “rights”.  She convinced women (especially minority women) that it was their “right” to end the life of their child.  Absurd isn’t it? 

Enemies of America fully understand the divide and conquer strategy.  They understand that a fractured society will collapse.  That is what is happening to our country.  We are fracturing into a million pieces - and selling the pieces of our babies!  What is wrong with us?

If we don’t wake up and stand up for what America has always been - a great free nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs - then what will we become?  

The Constitution of the United States starts with the phrase, “We the People” - not “we the fractured”.  When Benjamin Franklin was leaving the constitutional convention, he was asked by a woman what the outcome of our Constitution will be.  He replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” 

Can we?