Seeing Beyond The Surface


Photo Credit: Google

Yesterday was a fascinating day at work.

All the students were doing standardized testing and I was stationed in the library.

Toward the end of the day, I went in search of the librarian so I could check out a biography about photographer Diane Arbus.

Both of us were new to the school this year and this was the first chance I had to talk with her. We struck up a conversation and I was completely transfixed for the next 30 minutes.

During the winter break, “A” had gone by herself to one of her favorite places in the world, Death Valley. She rented a Jeep, and had her laptop, a tent,  a camera, a sleeping bag, some books, and a bunsen burner with which to cook food.

For an entire week, she barely saw another human being as she drove and hiked all over the desert. She slept either in her tent or locked inside her jeep.

The photos she showed me from her journey were filled with the  astonishing, stark beauty of the desert.  They transported me from cold and snowy New England to the blazing sunshine, gorgeous sands, and snow capped mountains of Death Valley.

But what really amazed me was how utterly fearless this woman is. She is barely five feet tall and so tiny that I felt like a giant standing next to her even though I am a small-boned, slim woman.  The sheer force of her personality belied her small stature and her face glowed with the inner light of one who is determined to live the life out of each day she is given.

She had first discovered Death Valley by accident. Wanting to explore someplace new several years ago, she did a search to discover how far away from New England she could fly for the cheapest price. That search yielded Las Vegas, which held no attraction for her at all. So she decided to use Las Vegas as her home base and explored where she could drive from that city. She finally settled on Death Valley.

So she flew to Vegas, rented a car, and set out to Death Valley for the first time, armed only with the basic necessities and a map. It was love at first sight and she travels back there every chance she gets.

I asked her if she was afraid being out in the vast wilderness by herself and she immediately said no, not for one second. What was there to be afraid of?

I could immediately think of a few things: Wild animals. People with nefarious intentions. Illness. Mechanical problems.

But she had no fear. She loved being alone surrounded by such incredible beauty and was totally at peace with her own thoughts.

She then began to show me photos from other trips she had taken around the world, some with her family and some alone. The pictures were mesmerizing, filled with color, adventure, and wonder. “A” had taken several selfies at many of  these places, revealing the wide smile of someone in love with life.

Further conversation revealed that her life has not been an easy one. She was a young single mother at one time, working at odd jobs and  finally forced to go on government assistance  for a season in order to survive. She was raised by her mentally ill mother and one of her siblings is a drug addict. Eventually, she got her degree in education and was recently named Teacher of the Year. She has even given a TED talk!

As I walked out of school yesterday, I was reminded anew that every single human being we come in contact with is a wonder. Everyone has a story and it is never what we think it is. People are endlessly fascinating.

Quick exercise: when you hear the term “librarian” what comes to mind? Most likely you listed terms such as: quiet, boring, mousy, shy, nose always in a book, ultra-serious, maybe a bit stern.

“A” is none of those things. She shatters every single stereotype people have about librarians.

Our relatively brief conversation inspired me to more fully pursue the things that make me come alive;  challenged me to be more intentional about facing my fears and finding exhilaration on the other side; and encouraged me to guard against my tendency to label, my maddening ability to assume that I know the story.

Take the time to get to learn the stories of the people you work and live with. Be humble. Never make assumptions.

Every single person you meet has something to teach you.

“I am not what you see.
I am what time and effort and interaction slowly unveil.” —Richelle E. Goodrich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Face Of God???


Obviously, this is not a political blog.

I am very interested in politics and there have been many lively discussions within the walls of our home about the current state of our country. However, it is not something I wish to blog about on a regular basis.

But every now and then, I feel that something must be said, so I am going to say it.

Currently, the evangelical community is in love with Ted Cruz.

Photo credit: truthinmedia.com

I wanted to like him. I really did.

He is a very eloquent speaker and seems to champion the constitution. He claims to be a strong Christian. All good things.

Yet…I just could not shake the sense of unease I had whenever I heard him speak. Something just did not ring true.

Then the news broke that Cruz had obtained two enormous loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank to finance his Senate campaign a few years ago, to the tune of $750,000 to $ 1 million….a fact that he did not disclose (despite the fact that it is the law to do so).

Before this revelation, he had claimed that he and his wife Heidi (who is on an unpaid leave of absence from her job as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs) had decided to liquidate their entire net worth to finance his Senate run.  No loans were ever mentioned in any interviews he and his wife gave, including to the NY Times several years ago.

Faced with this pesky and inconvenient fact being uncovered (inconvenient because Cruz had railed against the evils of Wall Street over and over again during his run) , Cruz’s  campaign blamed this failure  to disclose on an “inadvertent” clerical error. No big deal at all. Nothing to see here.

I have one question: just how stupid do these people think we are?!

This man has graduated from  both  Princeton and Harvard Law School. Surely when he decided to run for office, he would have familiarized himself with the requirements of the Federal Election Commission.

Anyone running for office is required to reveal the source of the money they will use to fund their campaigns. A Harvard Law graduate who has clerked at the Supreme Court would not know this?

Simple fact: Mr. Cruz is a liar.

Strike one.

Last week, the other shoe dropped with a resounding thud. It came to light that an actress who had appeared in a recent campaign ad for Cruz had once worked as an actress in soft core pornography movies.

The emphasis is on the word once. She had moved on from that phase of her life and in fact identifies as a conservative who believed in what Ted Cruz stood for. She had attended an open casting call for the commercial and was hired. Once the truth about her past was revealed, reaction from the Cruz camp was swift.

The ad was  immediately pulled and Cruz’s communications director Rick Tyler issued a statement saying that the actress had not been properly vetted and would never have been hired if they had known of her past.

By all means, let’s punish this woman who may have made some bad choices earlier in her life  but has turned over a new leaf and forged a fresh start.

Rather than celebrate second chances and clean slates, who’s up for a good public shaming?

At this point, you may be saying, “Isn’t this just politics as usual?”

For some candidates, it certainly could be.

However, Ted Cruz claims to be a Christian. He announced his candidacy for the presidency at Liberty University, a large Christian college in Virginia. During the run up to the Iowa Caucus, he spoke often and passionately about his faith.

All well and good.

So you would expect Ted Cruz to act like the Jesus he claims to represent.

I found it very interesting that the very day this story broke, I happened to read the account of Jesus and the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8.

This woman had been forcefully yanked from her bed and  dragged through the streets before being  roughly pushed to the ground at the feet of Jesus.

Here is how the scene played out all those centuries ago:

They made her stand in the middle of the court (can you imagine the shame she felt? She was literally surrounded by angry, accusing eyes while she was barely—if at all—dressed) and they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery.” (‘The very act’ implies that they literally burst into the room while this woman was having sex with her partner).

“Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. So what do You say to do with her? What is Your sentence?” They said this to test Him, hoping they would have grounds for accusing Him.

But Jesus stooped down and began writing on the ground with His finger.

However, when they persisted in questioning Him, He straightened up and said, “He who is without any sin among you let him be the first to throw the stone at her.”

Then He stooped down again and started writing on the ground. (No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote in the sand that day, but some commentators believe that he wrote the names of the woman’s accusers, as well as their own sins).

They listened to His reply and they began to go out one by one, starting with the oldest ones, until He was left alone with the woman standing there in front of Him in the center of the court.

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”

She answered, “No one, Lord!”

And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on, sin no more.

************

Jesus did not shame this woman.

He treated her with dignity and He loved her.

He did not wink at her sin, which He can never do because sin destroys us and He is holy.  He gently confronted it and told her to leave the life she had been living and start afresh.

He gave her a second chance.  That is what He does.

A person who loves and follows Jesus seeks to live as He did and show the same grace and mercy to others that he/she has been shown by the One who is full of grace and truth.

So how did Ted Cruz do in the instance of this former adult actress?

There was no grace  or mercy shown to her at all. She was a threat to the candidate’s image and grand ambitions to the be the leader of the free world and she must be dispatched. So she was. Onward and upward with the campaign!

It sickened me.

But the worst was still to come.

A few days ago, Heidi Cruz gave an interview to a South Carolina radio station and she made this astounding statement: “We can be in this race to show this country the face of the God we serve.”

I could not believe my eyes when I read those words.

Such arrogance. Such hubris.

I can see the face of God every time I open my Bible, thank you very much. I certainly am NOT and will NEVER look for the face of God in ANY politician.

Especially someone who has been proven to be a liar and showed no mercy to a woman trying to move on from a scandalous past.

Please wake up, people.

There is but ONE Savior and it is certainly not a politician.

Just because someone says they are a Christian and can quote some Bible verses does not mean that he or she is the real deal.

No one mere man can save America.

Our hope is not in any frail and fallible human being but it is firmly in the hands of the One who formed the world and is absolute control of the nations. (Romans 13:1).

Do not buy the hype or be swayed by eloquent words but take a very close look at the actions behind the glitz and the grand promises.

Obviously, there is no perfect candidate because there are no perfect people. I understand that.

I do not yet know who I will vote for but it will not be for the man who purports to show this nation the face of God…and yet acts in ways that are completely opposite of His beautiful character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My, How Things Have Changed


I graduated from high school 32 years ago.

I am now 50 years old and I went back to high school last August when I started my new job as a para-educator.

The changes I have noticed are astounding (and I do realize that I am about to sound like Grumpy Old Man from the 90’s Saturday Night Live cast):

Photo credit: Google

 

1). In my day, the only phones we had were attached to the wall in the kitchen. Private conversations were non-existent (unless you had a long cord and could close yourself into the bathroom and whisper).

Obviously today, every kid has a cell phone. And they have them out constantly. (As I type this, I am watching a female student take selfie after selfie at the same time singing “I Want You To Want Me” while the class is reviewing for the test tomorrow).

The kids don’t even try to hide the fact that they are clearly on their phones while the teacher is teaching. They text and snapchat away. Some even listen to music with one earbud in.

I know of one teacher that collects the phones at the beginning of class and the students pick them up as they go out the door afterward. For the life of me, I do not understand why more teachers do not do this. The distraction of cell phones in the classroom are an incredible impediment to learning and it is very disturbing.

2) In my day, no one spoke back to the teacher or talked during class. EVER. 

Today, kids chat with their friends during lectures as if they are in the lunch room. (And they may as well be: eating is now allowed during class. I have seen kids pull out boxes of leftover pizza, Chinese food, beef jerky, yogurt, candy, donuts, bagels, and individual tubs of ice cream. All washed down with coffee, soda, or energy drinks). Needless to say, when I was in school, we ate in one place and one place only: the cafeteria. If you were hungry before or after lunch, tough.

I have seen very little respect for teachers by some students. They are told to be quiet and they keep talking. They talk back. They complain about assignments. They have no compunction about swearing in the presence of a teacher, which does get them sent to the office.

When I was a student, if you were sent to the office, it was terrifying, resulting in instant nausea and incredible fear and dread. In all my years of high school, I didn’t even know what the principal’s office looked like and that was fine with me. On the rare occasion that one of your fellow students was sent to that frightful place, a solemn silence descended on the room and one dared to even barely breathe. We all knew that certain punishment and a phone call to the parents awaited that person.

Today, the students could care less. They leave  the classroom either making jokes or being incredibly angry, loudly telling everyone in the room how unfair this is. The other students call out support or joke back.  There is no fear or shame.

3) In my day, a deadline was a deadline. If you did not show up to class with your assignment done or ready to present your information, you got a zero. If you had to stay up all night to finish said assignment, that is what you did. 

Today, due dates are mere suggestions. Don’t have your paper done or are not prepared to give your speech? No problem. You can hand it in tomorrow, one week from now, or at the end of the semester. Whatever is convenient for the student is just fine,

And if you fail a test, no problem! You can take it as much times as you need until you pass!

That is just so like the real world, isn’t it?

My school day begins at 7:20 every morning. This necessitates that I get up at 4:30, despite living only 5 minutes away from the high school. The reason for this is twofold: 1) I am not a morning person in any way  and it takes me awhile to get moving and 2) I am not a natural beauty. Preparing to face the public takes significant time.

However, if one morning, I decide that 4:30 is just too early to get up, I can simply sleep in and get ready whenever I wake up. I can then saunter into school at around 10:00 or so. And if my boss asks me to have a report due to her by Friday at the end of the school day, I can tell her I’m just not ready and I will have it for her on Monday. Or Wednesday. Okay, next Friday at the latest.   I could  also stop by her office and whine a bit, saying it really is unfair that she is making me do this.  Doesn’t she know how busy I am?! In meetings, I will text my friends and family with abandon, check Facebook, and cheerfully share a funny post with the co-worker sitting next to me while our boss is talking.

How long do you think I would have my job?

So what are we teaching today’s kids?! What kind of employees and citizens will they be? The behavior that is permitted in schools is NOT preparing them for real life outside these indulgent and permissive walls.

4) In my day, the popular singers/bands were (among others) Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Foreigner, U2, Journey. 

And today, 80’s bands are still popular, including all those I mentioned above. It is surreal to hear kids speak on Monday mornings about seeing an 80’s band or singer in concert over the weekend. That was me thirty years ago!

That makes me extremely happy. (That and the fact that both my kids have quite a large amount of 80’s music on their phones.:) ). As well they should. I raised them on it.

I do want to end this post on a high note. Yes, everything I said above is sadly true. However, there is also A LOT of good that I see:

*Teachers are amazing. I have met people here who truly have a passion for the profession and genuinely love the kids. They arrive early and they leave late. Their door is always open to any student who needs help or simply needs to talk. They volunteer their time to coach, run a club, or chaperone the prom. They are gifts to this school.

*There are some fantastic kids in this place. They are brilliant, funny, inquisitive, involved, talented, and passionate about what they believe in. They give me hope for the future.

*Sadly, school is the one safe place for some students. It is a place where the adults greet them with a kind word in the morning; where they can get a nutritious breakfast and lunch; where they are listened to and encouraged.

*Public school gets a really bad rap among homeschoolers. I know because I homeschooled my kids through eighth grade. Josh and Julia both started public school in 9th grade.

Once our decision was out among the homeschooling community, the reaction was swift and (mostly) negative. One woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “How can you do this? You are feeding your kids to the wolves!”

That seemed a tad excessive to me.

Were there some ugly things? Absolutely.

(Yet, there were plenty of ugly things at the homeschooling co-op I took the kids to as well. There was bullying and sex and foul language and drug use. People are people).

The world can be a very ugly place. We dealt with the things that came up head on and our kids learned how to deal with them.

However, both our kids and Doug and me  have made life-long friends as a result of our connection with our local high school. My kids met teachers who have had an enormous impact on them, who inspired them and encouraged their gifts.

For all the faults of the public school system (and there are many), it is crucial to acknowledge the huge amount of good that exists as well.

In the meantime, as I go throughout my day at the high school, I will no doubt continue to think many thoughts that begin with, “Back in MY day…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eighties music ruled.

 

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Just A Sub


In August of last year, I began a new job.

I am a para-educator at our local high school and I love it. I have wonderful co-workers and I really enjoy working with the kids I am assigned to. (More on this in future posts).

However, I wanted to touch on just one thing that really struck me today.

In my World Literature class, Mr. H (the teacher) shared that after he graduated from college, he worked for a year as a long-term substitute teacher at a high school.

At one point, he was asked to stand in for an English teacher. This particular teacher was well-known for following  a dry, clearly-defined schedule that did not allow for hardly any creativity and certainly no spontaneity. When you are teaching Shakespeare to high school students, this is a major problem. ( I was an English major in college and half the time, I barely understood what he was talking about).

One day, the teacher was absent and Mr. H was allowed to take over the class. He is very passionate about good literature and being the free spirit  that he is, he set aside the prescribed lesson plan and did his own thing: which was to bring Shakespeare alive to these students and make what they were reading relevant to their lives in small town America.

The class was a rousing success. The kids became ever more animated as they discovered that while the language may be foreign to them, Shakespeare was  simply (and brilliantly) writing about the human condition: love, pain, joy, sorrow, jealousy, life, and death. They could relate to all of these things and the literature allowed them to connect the dots to their own situations.

Mr. H was absolutely electrified. He had connected with the kids in a powerful way and they with him.

A new and surprising revelation dawned: he wanted to be a teacher. After years of wandering and wondering, his destiny became crystal clear and he felt reborn.

The next day, the teacher returned.

She was absolutely furious to discover that her sterile lesson plan had been so casually tossed aside. She barely listened to Mr. H as he enthusiastically described what he happened in the class.

When he had finished speaking, she turned on him with a ferocity that stunned him.

“You’re JUST a sub!” she sneered contemptuously. “How dare you do what you did!  am the teacher!”

And just like that, those cruel words could have crushed Mr. H’s new-found dream.

But they didn’t.

He chose not to let the words of one miserable , small-minded person  who was filled with her own inflated sense of self determine his destiny.

Today, he is a high school teacher and one of the very best in the district. I was amazed as he made Shakespeare come alive for me…the English major who literally suffered through every Shakespeare class I had to take in college. It was a minor miracle that I actually enjoyed Hamlet!

But more importantly, he inspired grand ideas, lively debate, and excitement among the students. It was a wondrous thing to behold.

After today’s class, I thought long and hard about the words of that long-ago teacher:  “You’re JUST a sub!”

How dare we dismiss anybody as JUST an anything?!

There are no ordinary humans. Each one of us is made in the image of God Himself and before we made our entrance on earth, we existed in His mind.  We are eternal beings, which makes every single person you see infinitely precious.

We should never lose the wonder of this fact.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has talents. Everyone has dreams.

As we go into a new year, let us never see anyone as JUST an anything.

Let’s certainly never speak words of negativity when someone works up the courage to tell their dreams to us.

Let’s not be protective of “our” territory. It’s a big world. There will always be people who are better than we are at what we do, who have different ideas about how things should be.

Don’t be threatened by that. Decide instead to learn what you can from everyone who crosses your path, all the while doing the very best you can do.

Think long and hard about anyone in your life who you are tempted to see as “just” an anything.

And by the way, YOU are not “just” a (fill in the blank) either.

It’s a big world.

Make your mark and allow other people to make theirs.

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment in the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two plus two is four and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?…We should say to each of them, ‘Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you…you may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything’…If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”—Henry David Thoreau 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day My Life Changed (Part 3): Things I’ve Learned


(Parts One and Two of this series can be found here).

The sunshine after a storm.

Needless to say, Julia’s accident changed my life. The terror of nearly losing a child has left a permanent scar on my heart.

It has also broken my heart for the people I know personally who have had the horrific experience of burying a child.

In fact, the day that we brought Julia home from the hospital, their faces flashed across my mind and I wept for their desolation.

I looked in the backseat at our daughter who was sleeping and alive and knew that I would never stop thanking God for sparing her life.

Here are just a few of the things I have learned throughout this entire ordeal:

1) Jesus is real. 

This may sound like an obvious thing for a blogger who is a Christian to say, but I have never felt His Presence more strongly than I did that night and  during the days that followed in the hospital. His Presence was as real to me as my husband’s was. His peace literally filled my heart and stilled my churning emotions. I knew that I was being held in the palm of His hand in what felt like the midst of a category 5 hurricane. He gave me the strength to face this situation unflinchingly and with raw courage that could have only come from Him.

2) My faith is the real deal. 

This is hands down one of the biggest gifts that this awful situation has given to me.

It is so easy to play church. To say that you believe God’s promises when the sun is shining and life is happy. To sing praise songs in a church service and quote Bible verses.

It is a whole different animal when your life seems to fall apart before your eyes and you can still praise Him and trust Him wholeheartedly. 

I did that.

The past two years have been extremely difficult ones for my family. There has been much heartache, many unanswered questions, dashed hopes , betrayal, copious amounts of tears, and tremendous pressure. It is unlike anything we have ever dealt with before; so much so that we have often wondered if there was a conversation in heaven similar to the one that opens the book of Job where God says to Satan, “Have you considered my servants Doug and Susan?”

As Doug and I stood in the lobby of the ER that night, our daughter behind locked doors and out of our reach as she fought for her life, I looked at him and said, “All hell has been unleashed on our lives.”

It was true.

But this I knew, in a moment of wondrous clarity: MY GOD IS GOOD.

No matter what happened with Julia, I trusted Him with all my heart. He can do no wrong. How many times had I read Job 14:5 which declares, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live and we are not given a minute longer.”  Or Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” 

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Julia’s days—just like mine—were numbered by an all-knowing, all-loving sovereign God. If she were to only live 17 years, there was a reason and I would trust Him, even though my heart would have broken and nothing would have ever been the same again.

This was astonishing to me.

It does not get any more real than standing before the broken body of your child who is restrained in her hospital bed and KNOW that you have not just been playing church.

I realized that all the heartache of the past two years, where I have literally had to make the choice to  believe God’s Word above my circumstances, to cling to His promises, to keep wrestling with Him when I didn’t understand, to simply refuse to let go of Him as the enemy screamed in my ear, “He has abandoned you!”…ALL of that had brought me to this place.

The place where I believed my God and trusted Him with the life of my precious child. 

The enemy does not bother with those who are no threat to him, In a way, all our trials and tribulations were a badge of honor. It was a personalized invitation from Jesus Himself to not only show us the reality of our faith but to strengthen those areas in which we were weak and didn’t even know it.

The enemy has failed to move us on all fronts: Our marriage has never been stronger. Our needs are met. We are still in our home. Our relationships with our adult children are good ones. There has been forgiveness over a family betrayal (though things will never be the same again there). We have not surrendered to bitterness. We are not weaker but stronger. Joy abounds in our lives even though circumstances remain hard and mysterious. Laughter rings within the walls of our homes and we have been blessed by incredible friendships.

And if the end result of living through these tumultuous years has brought me to this place of my witnessing my faith being continually strengthened and the enemy of my soul utterly defeated, then I truly do get what James meant when he wrote: “Consider it pure joy …whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4).

I can honestly say that without the trials of the past couple of years, I would not have been prepared to be in that place of watching my daughter fight for her life. It might have broken me because I would not have learned how to fight. Instead, it has made me strong and I am so grateful.

3) During a time of crisis, meals are extremely important.

When my friend Marj walked into our kitchen holding a steaming hot dinner after we returned from the hopsital, complete with appetizer, salad, and dessert, I nearly wept with gratitude. She was truly the hands and feet of Christ to us that evening; the Bread of Life bringing us much-needed nourishment.

On a good day, I am a terrible cook. Throw in a broken air conditioner during the worst heat wave of the summer, the sheer exhaustion of getting about 12 hours to total sleep over a 48 hour period, and a tight budget,  and we were desperate for meals.

I will never again underestimate the importance of bringing a meal to someone who is in need. There is something so comforting and soothing about a friend taking the time to prepare a meal for you when you are hurting. It lessens the blow that life has dealt and smooths away the rough edges.

A meal is a tangible expression of love and friendship.

So, the next time you hear of someone who has endured a tragedy, make a phone call. Send a text or an email. Make a meal. And if you can’t cook, pick up a dinner from a local restaurant and deliver it.

It will mean more than you know.

4) Life is fragile, precious, and beautiful, even in the midst of sorrow. 

Eternity is closer than we dare believe.

None of us know how long we will have breath and situations like Julia’s accident dramatically illustrate that fact.

For me, it heightens all my senses and ironically, makes me feel more alive. I notice everything, especially the little things that take on added significance.

*The first night in the hospital,  I sat in the chair beside Julia’s bed and looked out the  window to see the stars twinkling and glittering like diamonds against the black velvet sky. It was a moment of beauty and grace.

“He counts the stars and knows them all by name.” That familiar Bible verse ran through my brain and it gave me tremendous comfort. Since Jesus knows the names and location of the stars, He knows and sees me sitting in that hospital room beside my daughter’s broken body.

*Simple acts of kindess means so much.

On the Dartmouth campus, there is an oasis of comfort called The David House. It is a beautiful Victorian mansion that allows exhausted and frightened parents the warmth of home amidst tragedy by providing delicious food, hot showers, and lovely private bedrooms for blessed rest, mercifully free of the beeping machines and constant hovering of medical staff.  This is all free of charge.

The first night I showed up there, totally exhausted and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, the woman who met me at the front desk offered me a warm smile and a hug. She gave me the tour so I would know how to find what I would need and then showed me to my room, leaving with a reassuring pat on my shoulder.

After getting settled in my room, I headed to the kitchen to grab something to eat, as I was starving. Someone had baked cookies for the residents and left them on a brightly decorated plate with a sign that read: “Help yourself and God bless.”

When I finally stretched out on the bed in my room to try to get some sleep, I listened to my phone messages. One of them was from my friend Mary, who had recently moved to Colorado. Hearing her sweet voice from across the country, so full of love, concern, and prayers made me weep with gratitude.

Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed to another human being. The sheer beauty of such things shines brightly in the midst of pain and can make all the difference. Reach out, even if it is outside your comfort zone.

*My sister-in-law Leslie and her husband Tony came to visit us at Dartmouth and they brought me a large iced vanilla coffee with extra sugar and extra cream from Dunkin Donuts,  just the way I like it. It was heavenly.  Such a simple thing but it was a wonderful break from hospital cafeteria fare.

*On the drive home from the hospital, I was able to appreciate  the sun-drenched small towns and fields of wildflowers. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring for any of us, but today was ripe with possibilities and new beginnings.

Our entire outlook on life has changed.

Every day that is not spent in a hospital is a good day.

I don’t have time for silly drama.

I do not put off doing things with family and friends. Now is the time.

There is no time to waste.

There is no way to not sound like a cliché to say that every day is a gift…but it truly is.

Gratitude overflows in my heart.

I still have my girl.

Go and find the ones you love. Let them know.

Time is precious.

 

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The Day My Life Changed (Part 2)


You can read Part I of this series here.

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My husband and I practically ran into the Dartmouth ER where we were met with grim news.

Julia was not waking up.

The doctors had removed all sedatives from her system in the hopes that she would begin to awaken, but thus far, she had shown no signs of doing so.

The doctors were awaiting results of the MRI , CAT scans and X rays to ascertain if she had suffered internal bleeding, broken bones, or brain damage.

She was still intubated and alive, but we didn’t know what that meant yet.

I stood next to my daughter holding her limp hand and prayed as I had never prayed before.

Now let me preface this next statement by saying this: I am painfully aware of the fact that there have been parents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who have stood next to the bedside of a relative and prayed for a recovery  that never came. All prayers are answered but not always in the affirmative.

This time, our prayers were answered in a wondrous way.

Julia began to wake up.

Her hands suddenly flew up to the tube attached to her throat and she began to claw frantically at it.

“Julia, honey, it’s okay,” The attending nurse soothed. “We’re going to remove that tube for you in just a second.”

Within a minute, the tube was removed from Julia’s throat. Coarse coughs wracked her body and she started to cry.

“Julia, it’s Mom,” I bent down to whisper into her ear while Doug stood over my shoulder. “It’s okay. You are in the hospital but we are here with you.”

“I just don’t know what’s going on,” she said in a small voice, the tears streaming down her ravaged face.

Those words were among the sweetest sounds I have ever heard in my life. My girl was speaking! She had come back to us!

The good news came in quick succession.

Julia was able to respond to all commands. All tests for internal bleeding, brain damage and broken bones came back negative. She was breathing on her own.

The only broken bones she sustained were that every bone around her left eye was shattered, but they would heal on their own over time.

While her left eye was  gruesomely, completely and tightly swollen shut, there had been no damage and her sight would be fine.

There was only one word for what had happened and it came from the mouth of one of the doctors: ““This is a MIRACLE!”

And it was.

Within two days, we brought Julia home.

She had a severe concussion that would take at least a month to heal.

The left side of her face was horribly swollen and would take several months to return to normal but she would not need any plastic surgery.

Her left eye would open in two weeks.

Her two friends who were in the truck with her that night would be fine.

To say that we were grateful is an understatement.

However, life would not be without challenges.

Julia would not be able to attend college as planned and would have to take a gap year.

There was no way her concussion would be healed in time to be able to navigate the rigors of being a brand new college student the following week.

So. Many. Tears. Cherished hopes were dashed into a million little pieces.

As a 50 year old woman, I know through painful experience how fragile life is and how things can change in an instant.

It was heartbreaking for me to see my 17 year old daughter come to this realization. However, as much as we as parents want to shield our children from pain, this is impossible. All we can do is stay by their side, love them unconditionally, and pray our hearts out on their behalf.

Julia spent most of her time in the weeks that followed her return home sleeping as her swollen brain worked hard to repair itself. She wore an eye patch to cover her horrific eye injury so as not to alarm her friends who visited for the short amount of time that she had the energy to receive them.

The day after her return, Diana’s parents drove her over to the house because the girls needed to see each other. Diana had been greatly traumatized. (Unlike Julia, who had no memory of the accident, she remembered everything in terrifying detail).

She had been in the room next to Julia in the ER and heard everything: Julia’s sharp cries of pain, the frantic activity of the doctors and nurses who were trying to save her, the tears and shock of Doug and me as we struggled to deal with this tragic new reality. Like us, she felt helpless as her best friend fought for her life just feet away from her.

Like shell-shocked refugees, Doug and I stood in our living room with Diana’s parents, as we all shared tears for what could have been, as well as thanks for the blessed fact that we still had our girls with us.

The familiar laughter of the two best friends was a much-needed balm for our souls. I had spent the past four years listening to that sound and was incredibly grateful that its joyful music still rang out loud and strong through the walls of our home.

Over time, Julia began to share bits and pieces of her heart with us.

***She had no memory of the accident itself. Her last memory was of her friend Izzy who was driving the pickup truck pulling over on the side of the road right before they started out to their destination.

“Let’s put on our seatbelts,” she had said, “I don’t feel like dying tonight.”

Prophetic words indeed: without seatbelts the odds are very small that any of them would have survived the impact.

*** “The instant I woke up and for days afterward,” Julia told me one afternoon, “I kept hearing the chorus of a song you always used to play, Mom.”

It was a Chris Rice song entitled “Life Means So Much.” The chorus goes like this:

Every day is a gift you’ve been given
Make the most of the time every minute you’re livin’.”

“I know I’ve been given a second chance,: Julia said in a quiet voice. Her beautiful blue eyes held a maturity that is only gained through enduring a challenge beyond oneself. “I also know that that song was a message to me from Jesus.

Those words were music to this mom’s ears.

From the time my best friend Tracy died suddenly when we were in our mid-20’s, I have known that life is precious and fragile and have shared that so often with my kids as they were growing up. They often (teasingly) accused me of being sentimental and to an extent they were right. Yet, I spoke the truth to them and now Julia understood.

We are not promised tomorrow.

***My daughter has a group of incredible friends. The love and support she received from them in the aftermath of her accident was amazing. She is deeply loved.

***Julia rediscovered her passion for music. Once her healing had reached a certain point, she pulled out her guitar and started singing again.

You have no doubt heard the saying that there are people who sing like angels. Julia does. Her voice is so achingly beautiful and every time I heard her sing, it brought tears to my eyes, and  I praised God that her voice hadn’t been silenced.

She is working hard on her music and plans to share her gift with others in our area in the spring, performing at local Open Mic nights.

I am sure that I will embarrass her by being in the front row for every performance.:)

Alas for those who never sing
But die with the music still in them.
—Oliver Wendall Holmes 

Julia did not die that awful night and for that, I will thank God for the rest of my days.

She is still here to share her music, her bright light, her contagious laughter, and her joy.

Sometimes I think the greatest beauty is born from pain.

In the next post, I will share the lessons I have learned over the past few months.

Thank you for reading.

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The Day My Life Changed (Part I)


August 19th, 2015 was the worst day of my life.

On the hottest day of the year, our air conditioning broke. Then the well pressure tank broke and our basement was flooded.

We hadn’t seen anything yet.

Since we wouldn’t have any water until the next day, my husband and I checked into a local hotel.

Our daughter Julia was at a sleepover with two of her best friends. It was a last hurrah before they left for college.

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We were incredibly grateful for air conditioning and a shower and had just settled down to sleep when my cell phone rang.

It was 10:30 at night and Julia’s best friend Diana’s name flashed across the face of my iPhone.

My heart stopped.

It is a mother’s intuition. This would not be good news.

“Mrs. Brown, it’s Diana.” Her voice was high pitched and shaking. “There’s been an accident.”

She took a deep breath and then the words came out in a torrent.

An old pickup truck, a dark night, a dirt and gravel road in the country, a driver going too fast, all ending with a sickening crash into a tree.

Julia was unconscious for a few minutes. She was in the middle and since there was only a lap belt to restrain her, her face hit the dashboard with full force.

She woke up when the ambulance arrived and was able to state her name and answer the questions of the EMT’s.

It was at that point that Diana called us, so we headed to the hospital thinking that she would have a concussion and that would be that.

Wrong.

We were kept in the ER waiting room for over 20 minutes.

We would find out later that was because they were desperately trying to get her stabilized. Julia had decompensated fairly quickly after the ambulance arrived. She was extremely combative  and stopped breathing several times on the ride to the hospital.

When the ER doors finally opened, the head doctor met us looking extremely serious.

“Your daughter is in grave condition,” he said. “We believe she has suffered severe head trauma and you may be looking at long term care.”

And then: “If she survives.”

He gave us permission to see her for just a few moments.

It was heartbreaking.

The first thing I noticed was that she was intubated. There was an enormous patch over her left eye and there were angry cuts on her forehead. Dried blood was streaked through her beautiful strawberry blonde curls. Her legs and arms twitched in agitation. On a pile beneath her bed was her favorite outfit in a heap, all cut up.

“Talk to her,” the doctor encouraged us. “She may be able to hear you.”

Through many tears, Doug and I took our places on either side of our daughter’s bed. We took her hands and took turns saying that we loved her. I have never felt so helpless.

I was in the same room with my daughter but I could not reach her.

To our horror, she began to decompensate again and we were rushed out of the small room as the curtain around Julia was closed decisively.

We held each other and wept. Julia had just graduated from high school two months before. She was due to leave for college the following week.

My brilliant, beautiful, creative, musical girl might be gone forever, replaced with a shadow of her former self.

The thought was more than I could bear.

Life had suddenly become extremely terrifying and I felt like I could not breathe.

After what seemed an eternity, the doctor told us that they were transferring her to Dartmouth Hitchcock hospital via ambulance, as the fog that night precluded a life flight.

“Can I go with her in the ambulance?” I asked.

He shook his head. Her case was serious enough that the ambulance would be filled with staff. Doug and I would have to drive ourselves. But before we could leave, he instructed us to leave our cell phone numbers with the ambulance driver…so that he could call us if Julia did not survive the ride to Dartmouth.

With heavy hearts, we headed out into the middle of the night and began the hour and a half drive to Dartmouth.

I spent much of our drive looking at Julia’s Instagram and Facebook pages on my phone.  Just two weeks before I had done a photo shoot with her and her friends on the beach. Seeing the photos of Julia drenched in sunshine, smiling and laughing made me weep.

At one point, I looked up from my phone and straight ahead into the dark night lit only by the high beams of our SUV.

“If Julia doesn’t make it,” I said in a small voice, “I cannot stay here. I would want to take whatever we need with us, mail the keys to the house back to the bank and leave this town forever.”

They were not idle words. I meant every one of them.

Doug agreed.

When we finally pulled into the ER parking lot of the hospital, we both looked at each other and the tears flowed.

Our cell phones had not rung.

Our girl was still with us.

To be continued…

 

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