Monday, August 25, 2008

Then and Now

Katherine is no stranger to stares.

I remember a funny incident several years back. When Katherine and Jay first moved to the West Coast, they were fresh out of college and full of adventure. They took advantage of the richness of the LA experience, the beauty of the Malibu coast, the fun of the celebrity carnival. They got a kick out of the whole thing without taking it (or themselves) too seriously. Jay has a photographic memory, so he quickly learned all the short cuts around town. He could skim through a People Magazine for 30 seconds at the grocery checkout, and then point out a minor B-list starlet at the drug store. Since neither he nor Katherine ever met a stranger, this engendered some intriguing experiences. (Case in point: the Oscar photo with Hilary Swank that was on the Caringbridge site for a while.)

When friends or relatives came out to visit, we were given the royal treatment. For instance, a young cousin got to meet both the Hilton sisters on the same trip. (Paris said, “That’s hot,” when Katherine mentioned they’d run into Nicki earlier.) We stayed at the old Roosevelt in Hollywood, shared the ladies’ room at Mr. Chow’s with Jessica Alba, shopped on Rodeo. It was a blast. But since both Katherine and Jay are exceedingly frugal, they devised methods to do it all on a dime.

“The Ivy” is one of the poshest lunchspots in LA. It is a charming, flower-dripping Country French cottage on Robertson decorated with vintage pieces. (It is also where Amie almost died on another occasion, but that’s a long story...maybe it will be on “Amie’s Mom’s Blog” one day.)The best seat in the house is a cozy enclave on the front porch consisting of an old wicker settee overflowing with fluffy English chintz pillows, a shabby chic table, and little bistro chairs. The first time she saw it, Katherine said, “Mom would love this.” So do all the celebs, which brings us to what is not charming about The Ivy: swarms of paparazzi crowding the narrow sidewalk in front, impeding your way in. The prices are another negative. So Katherine and Jay devised a strategy. They would take their guests during the lull time between late-lunch and early hors d’oeuvres, and order coffee and one food item to share: The Ivy’s signature banana split, which is served on a platter and is big enough to feed the Russian Army.

So, on to the incident in question. Too thrifty for Valet Parking, Jay dropped Amie and me off to secure a table, while he and Katherine circled for a parking spot. Disappointed to hear that there was no room at the inn, we started walking back down the sidewalk. We ran into Katherine and Jay on their way up to join us. They just laughed when we told them we’d been turned away. Katherine was fairly fixed up that day. (i.e.: actually had on some makeup and had washed her hair.) She immediately went into character and marched through the swarm of photographers and up the steps as if she owned the place. We, her entourage, were quickly ushered in...not to a side table near the bathroom, but to that glorious front and central spot. (Amie and I gave the maitre d’ a triumphant glance as we walked by.) Every eye in the place was on the striking 5’10”blonde, the paparazzi abuzz: Was she Somebody? Or about to be?

For some reason, I thought about that the other day on Casa Colina’s field trip.

We made a motley crew. The five female patients and four staff members (with one mom along for the ride) were taken in vans to a nail salon in a nearby town. It was no small feat to get all of those wheelchairs and walkers loaded up. We had several false starts, and then got a little lost. But Katherine gabbed the whole way there, excited to be in a vehicle other than an ambulance for the first time since April 20. Starting and stopping like a herd of turtles, we finally made our grand entrance into the salon.

It got quiet. Every eye in the place...

The Ivy was then.

The nail spa is now.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The New Normal

This is a whole different ball game. Casa Colina caters to brain and spinal cord injuries of every type. Wheelchairs zip around in all directions, turning the navigation of a hallway into an obstacle course or a bumper car ride. It has been startling for Katherine to be surrounded by people from all walks of life facing such gigantic challenges. A few seem to have the type of brain injuries that affect reasoning skills and cognitive ability. (To be blunt: seem “crazy.”) Others have a hard time with social skills. For instance, Katherine’s roommate greeted her by telling the nurse, “I want a divider!” Of course, Katherine was crushed. She had planned on introducing herself, making polite conversation, and establishing the roots of a new friendship. Her roommate, an elderly stroke patient, was annoyed by her presence.

After attempting a conversation with some of her fellow patients the first day, Katherine seemed slightly stunned. As we strolled away from them, she whispered to Grace and me, “Am I like that? Is that how I seem to other people?" Followed by what's become something of a litany: "They don’t know I’m normal inside.”

Grace, Jay’s Aunt Judy, and I sat in on Katherine’s “Disability Adjustment” class. It was a trip and a something out of a Mike Meyers movie. I wish Amie had been there so she could do the voices for us. English was the second language for several participants. An interpreter repeated everything in Spanish to one patient, making it hard for me to concentrate even without a brain injury. Other patients kept up a steady stream of conversation. Two were having such an issue with each other that the teacher had to stop and intervene several times. It reminded me of a class I once taught whose roster included four or five ADHD students.

For a tiny moment, I couldn’t help wondering if we’ve landed in the Cuckoo’s Nest. Maybe Katherine will get to play Jack Nicholson.

Vignette: The teacher (psychologist) is going down her list of points. She talks about the effects of “trauma.” First, she must define it for those who don’t know what she’s talking about. Then she goes around the table asking people what kind of trauma has brought them here. Katherine says, “AVM,” but the teacher doesn’t quite hear/understand her. She asks one of misbehavers at the end of the table. He reminds me of a combative Fred Sanford. He launches into a long story: “I tell you what it is. It’s when you countin’ yo’ money and somebody lies and rips you off and you get blamed for it.” The teacher tries to define “trauma” in the current context again. The next gentleman says it’s when you can’t remember things. The teacher steers him back to first causes until he gets the right answer, “Fell off a ladder.” The man next to him was shot in the head with a nail gun. Next, the teacher goes around the circle asking the question, “What do you enjoy doing?” Katherine answers “Writing notes to people.” Two say playing golf. One says smoking. Fred Sanford says, “Counting money.” The teacher asks them what their proudest achievement is. The only other woman answers “Graduating from college.” An Asian man with a thick accent smiles as he tells us he is a good husband. Katherine says, “My baby.” Fred goes into another long thing, but it ends up with his money-counting ability. The teacher asks them to name the characteristic they like best about themselves. Several cannot answer this question at all. Katherine says “Compassionate.” One says, “Optimistic.” Before the teacher calls on Fred, Grace turns to me and mouths, “Counting money.” Sure enough...

After class, we all stroll out onto the pretty patio, where several patients have already lit up a smoke. One of the staff is explaining to a patient why the combative gentleman is combative. We pass the other lady from the class who is proceeding slowly up the sidewalk on a walker. She wears a t-shirt with “Property of Jesus” emblazoned on it in big block letters. Aunt Judy tells her that she likes her shirt. That serves as a secret password...brethren start emerging from the woodwork. The staff member accompanying the t-shirt lady starts telling us about a well-known Christian speaker coming to the area soon. Then an attractive blonde woman who appears to be about my age comes over to introduce herself. Her son is being admitted and evaluated. He is Katherine’s age, 26. His survival of a terrible car crash has been miraculous. She wears a cross. So we connect. We’re on the same page.

Little reminders: “You are not alone. I am here.”

It has been a huge blessing that Jay was able to rent a little house on the Casa Colina property. Although Katherine must spend the night at the TLC, no one seems to have any objection to our strolling her over to the house between activities. On weekends she is able to hang out for long periods. The house is something straight out of Ozzie and Harriett, and brings back memories of my happy “Fifties Five Points” childhood. One day, the Ice Cream Man even drove by with his nostalgia-inducing music. There is a grassy little backyard in which James can play, which has been a help to Sarah and Mary Ruth in keeping him entertained. We’ve already had some sweet, cozy times in this modest dwelling. It feels a little like Normal.

By Friday afternoon, Katherine was tired. We didn’t want her to be alone, so Grace, Jay, James, and I all got into the queen-size bed with her to watch TV. Of course James was all over us, and we eventually squeezed Jay out. But we were silly and funny and it felt comfortable, like putting on a ratty old favorite housecoat. It’s amazing how little it takes to make us happy now.

Incredibly, Katherine’s sense of humor has sharpened through all of this. She’s saying things she never would have said before...wickedly witty comebacks to her sisters’ stream of hysterical banter. When I pointed this out to her, she gave me an adorable little uneven shrug, and said, “You might as well laugh, or you might cry.” So we laugh. As I’ve said before, it’s not hard at all when Middle Sister is around. Rather, it’s hard not to. For years, I’ve begged her to audition for Saturday Night Live. She can make you laugh even when you’re really mad at her.

I'm rambling again. The point is this: despite Brain Damage, despite the world being forever changed, despite unspeakable emotions...Normal is slowly coming back. Whatever the heck that is. I tend to agree with Patsy Clairmont that it’s just a setting on your dryer. Personally, I’ve never really felt entirely “normal,” nor especially wanted to be. The first time Katherine realized how altered she is and started trying to tell us how she is still “normal” inside, I said, “No, Katherine. You’re not just normal, you’re special.” Normal is way overrated. Still, after so much havoc, it’s kind of nice to have a little coming back around again.

A modern-day Fairy Godmother from church who refers to herself as “The Purple Hippo Lady” gave me (among countless other generous gifts) a book by Carol Kent called A New Kind of Normal. Carol is an inspirational speaker whose only child, a stellar Annapolis graduate and devout Christian, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. A friend of Brooks’ gave us her first book, When I Lay My Isaac Down, which chronicles the events. It helps to know others have survived the unthinkable. There is a secret sorority of suffering.

In the prologue, she writes, “In that one shocking moment, everything changed. That phone call became a defining moment in time—a marker that has forever divided our past “normal” life from a life we never expected and certainly didn’t want...This book is about...choices we all need to make when our carefully developed life-plan takes a U-turn or comes to a sudden halt. It’s about discovering fresh hope and renewed courage when we would rather give up...It’s about choosing not to waste the sorrow. It’s about giving hope to others in the middle of our brokenness and tears, because it is all we have to offer. And because it is all we have to give, it is enough.”

Our “defining moment” occurred on April 21. I realize now that somewhere inside of me there was an unarticulated feeling that God would never let something like this happen to my family. Not us. Not my special Katherine. This kind of thing happens to other people, people you see on Oprah once they’ve come through somehow. But I’ve learned that no one escapes life unscathed. Sometimes things happen that startle us out of our complacency, disturb our assumptions, and destroy our expectations. But these things also serve to teach us something new.

Luckily, a room became available on Saturday, so we were able to restore the privacy of Katherine’s roommate. Katherine moved into a room across the hall which is unfortunately very dark and a little dreary. It makes me depressed in spite of Jay’s valiant attempts to brighten it up with pictures, flowers, and mementoes.

After we got her settled into her new bed, Katherine looked around and shook her head in mild amazement. “This is unbelievable. Un-be-lieve-able. I’m normal inside. What am I doing here?” I’m tired of answering that question, so I just looked at her. Then I said, “You tell me.” With humility and a wistful little crooked smile, she answered, “God has a lot to teach me here.”

Amen to that for all of us.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Transitions are hard for our family. Maybe that’s why we’ve been through so many in the past several years. We need to get over realize, finally, that all of Life is one big fat transition leading up to the final metamorphosis from Corruptible into Incorruptible. In the meantime, we must learn how to hold all things lightly, even the mistakenly presumed immutability of our frail flesh.

I bet you don’t know many people who cry when leaving the hospital.

Yes, of course we did.

I’ll just let you imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions swirling around us as we hugged and photographed the people who have cared, not just for Katherine, but for all of us so tenderly; as we left the place that symbolizes despair and desperation, joy and victory, pain and miracles.

The old UCLA Med Center is like an abandoned shell. Its living organism has shed that old home and crawled on down the road. The lobby that teamed with life and love and tears and noise and curses and blessings is mostly silent now. The chairs we commandeered in our own “Katherine’s Corner” are pushed together against a wall. I think one of our coolers may still be out on the adjoining patio. Maybe there’s a lone Diet Coke left floating in a few inches of stale water. Everything and everyone’s moved on. But I can still hear the echo of fervent prayers and shrieks and cries and laughter as I walk by one last time.

We were able to speak with our precious Dr. Gonzalez the day before we left. He colored in a few more of the gray boxes. He described the day after her surgery to Katherine. Understandably exhausted after operating for 16 hours,* he’d gone to bed. Under such circumstances, the ICU nursing staff would not normally dare to disturb him, but he was awakened by a call. He rushed back to the hospital to see for himself what he (and everyone else) thought was a medical impossibility. When he got there, Katherine squeezed his hand. He told us that he will never forget that day as long as he lives.

Nor will any of us who were there.

Dr. Gonzalez reassured us immeasurably about Katherine’s potential for ongoing improvement, restoring my hope that “He who began a good work will continue it...” He reiterated how vitally important the prayers have been in Katherine’s healing process. He told us that before every surgery, he prays for God to help him. He does his best, and God does the rest.

How extraordinarily blessed we have been by this good and gentle man.

After our picture-taking session and goodbyes, Katherine was given a round of applause by the staff, while we family members applauded them. Then she was whisked away on a gurney into the waiting ambulance for the hour-long ride to Casa Colina. Jay was allowed to ride in the back with her. Although she’d been saying, “Pomona or Bust!” for days, Katherine was tearful as we waved goodbye. A memory of doing the same thing as the newlyweds left their wedding reception in a limo inexplicably juxtaposed itself. Not even four years have passed since that brilliant day in November.

Grace and I arrived in Pomona about 30 minutes after Katherine and Jay. When we entered her new room at the "Transitional Living Center," she was sniffling. “I want to go back to UCLA,” she mumbled to me. “Why?” I asked, astonished.

“What if they don’t like me here? What if they’re mean?”

“Oh, sound like it’s the first day of camp. How did that always turn out?”

Katherine loved camp so much that she kept going until they kicked her out. She was elected “Chief” of her tribe, and took on any and every job they were willing to give her. Her last year there was the only year all three Arnold girls coincided. Because Grace got seriously sick the last week, I had to go up to the mountains and stay in a hotel with her. But it also meant that I got to witness my girls’ “Chickasaw” tribe win the intense yearly competition. Another snapshot in my mind: Katherine holding up the Victory cup while her two biological sisters and her many tribal sisters jump and scream in ecstasy, faces frozen into masks of frenzied bliss. Katherine adored Camp DeSoto so much that she gave up her summer after sophomore year in college to go back as a counselor. That was really roughing it. I’ve heard from several survivors that the job, although immensely rewarding, is not for the faint of heart or weak in body or spirit.

I think that Casa Colina may be a lot like being a counselor at Camp DeSoto. Tough, but worth it.

In the days to come, I’m going to try to keep that picture in my head: Katherine holding high the big golden Victory cup, a look of radiant joy on her sweaty face.


(*There has been disparity in reports of the length of the surgery. Dr. Gonzalez, who should know, has always said it was 16 hours long, as did the Anesthesiologist with whom I spoke the first week after surgery.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Into the Void

Last week was exceptionally stressful, as we realized our days at UCLA were numbered. It is time for the next phase of treatment, but we had no clear direction until the last minute. I prayed for a sign on Thursday morning, and by Thursday evening several had been given. The two Jays toured a wonderful rehab facility in Pomona, Casa Colina, and every green light was on. So Katherine will be transferred there by ambulance on Tuesday or Wednesday. More on that later...

In the process of trying to arrive at a decision, the Jays, Katherine, and I had a conversation with the new head neurologist. At the end of that discussion, he took Jay, Sr. and me back to his office to pull up Katherine’s records on his computer. Finally, almost four months after the surgery, I was able to see for myself the black and white of what has happened to my child.                                                                  
Dr. A. showed us CT scans (or maybe it was MRIs) of Katherine’s brain. First, there was the huge abstract art form of the AVM. Then he showed us the brain stem, which was completely engulfed in blood. Finally, he showed us the “after” picture. There is a large black hole where the left side of Katherine’s cerebellum used to be. Gone. Empty. Blank. Just a big black Void of Nothingness.

He also elucidated the cranial nerve impact. Seven of them are damaged, not four.

So. There we are. In vivid black and white.

Dr. A. told us that in 25 years of practicing neurology, he had never seen anything like this. (Now remember, this is UCLA, not Podunk General Hospital.) When I went into her room yesterday, Katherine was anxious to tell me about her conversation with her RN, Richard. He told her that in 30 years of nursing, he’d only seen four neurology patients in her age bracket with the kind of AVM damage she has sustained. She is the only one who ever spoke again. (One remains in a persistent vegetative; the other two died.) He likened her survival to winning the Califoria Lottery. I guess now that we're leaving it’s time to play Truth or Consequences...and say the things that were best left unsaid before. I am grateful that I didn’t fully comprehend the situation until recently. And I am especially grateful that Katherine didn’t. “As a man (woman) thinketh, so (s)he is...” But it is good to know these things at this point in order to fully appreciate the Lazarus-like miracle of Katherine’s life.

Now we really understand why Dr. Gonzalez cried.

I am intensely, profoundly grateful for the gift of more time with Katherine. I am glad the world has more time with her. But I find myself in some tricky prayer territory now. (Please bear with me here...I am no theologian. Reread the “About Me” section if you ever have any questions or objections to something I write. I am trying to retain something of the spirit originally intended for this...just an average sinner thinking outloud with my friends.) Here’s the dilemma. Based on the medical “facts,” is praying for complete restoration like asking God to re-grow an amputated limb???

I believe that miracles did not cease with the end of the Apostolic Age, that “Greater things than these you will do...” was not addressed only to the Eleven. I have seen before-and-after x-rays of an inoperable brain tumor that disappeared completely after prayer, leaving behind no scar tissue or residue of any kind. (Medically “impossible,” according to a Neurosurgeon friend of mine who believes that “with God all things are possible,” and that the case in question was a supernatural healing.) There are many, many more verifiable contemporary accounts of God apparently intervening in the Laws of Nature. After all, they’re His laws.

Katherine is missing part of her brain. There is a void where brain tissue used to be. But it is interesting to note what the Book says about God and voids. It all begins with a Void. “The earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Gen. 1:2-3) Somewhere in the NT it says something like “He calls into being from that which is not.” (Internet access was a much-appreciated but unfortunately temporary blessing, so I no longer have access to a concordance...maybe someone could look it up for me.)

God fills empty places. It is just what He does. If you have a hole in your heart, He longs to come in and fill it with the love and light of His presence. If your soul is cold and hollow and empty, He delights in pouring the rich warmth of His Spirit into those lonely places. > Newsflash: I just grabbed my Bible to try to look up something else, and it ‘happened’ to open to Eph. 5:18: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, BE FILLED with the Holy Spirit...” (NLT) Thanks, Lord, I needed that reminder. I told you He has a sense of humor. Note that the verse is stated in the imperative case. (Didn’t my daughter miss that one on “Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”) It is a command. We are told to allow ourselves to be filled to overflowing with real LIFE...abundant, vital, electrifying LIFE. Oh Father, please fill up all our empty places with more of you!

About a year and a half ago, someone sent me a message from Elijah House Ministries which was prophetic in nature. Almost every sentence of that message ricocheted through me like a white-hot BB, leaving an icy chill of unearthly apprehension (first definition) in its wake. One phrase buzzes through my brain now. “The prognostications of the doctors will be turned into lies.” Now I want you to know that I have a very deep-rooted respect for the medical profession. My father, whom I adored, was a wonderful man who devoted his life to helping people through his calling as a doctor. He was a brilliant person...Phi Beta Kappa at Emory, Mensa, and all that...but even he was not God, as much as I frequently expected him to be. He couldn’t fix everything. I think that most of the best physicians will tell you that they don’t know it all. It’s not humanly possible to know every every everything. Even doctors and nurses are shocked at the way things sometimes happen against all odds.

I am praying that this will continue to be one of those times. I am choosing to believe and hope that God will not stop at half a miracle. I am putting myself out on a (phantom) limb and praying for complete restoration, in spite of that black hole on the screen.

One of the first things Jay saw at the new facility was a large banner reading, “Where Miracles Continue...”

I invite you to join me (with my tiny little mustard seed of faith) in radical prayer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blind Trust

I didn’t sleep well last night. While it was still dark outside, I woke up to what has become a familiar sight. The back of my apartment faces out onto a pretty Mediterranean-style courtyard. Being one who is extremely affected by surroundings, the aesthetics of my little balcony view have been a gift of comfort and restoration. I love flowers, greenery, and flowing water...all of which are a part of this scene. The courtyard is gently lit at night, which is a mixed blessing. A little light manages to creep in through my window blinds all night long. Although perfect darkness is best for someone with sleep issues, there is a striking silver lining: the configuration of the window panes causes a massive-looking cross to shine in over my tiny room and cover the bed I sleep in.

Seeing that vision in the dark was a fitting way to start the day. I realize that the last few blogs I’ve written have kind of been downers. The past 2 or 3 weeks have been a period which an adorable friend of Kat and Jay’s refers to as “The Honeymoon’s Over.” It’s just the territory we’re in right now. On any trip, there are sections where the scenery gets ugly. You have no choice but to keep on truckin’ down the highway til you’re through it. We will.

Later in the morning, I picked up my Bible and started reading where I’d left off. It happened to be about Daniel in the lion’s den. I had a flashback of Katherine’s Sunday School class performing the story...must have been about 4th grade or so. As ubiquitously highlighted as some passages are, it always amazes me how there’s still something new that leaps out with each fresh reading. Today it was this sentence: “Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.” (Dan. 6:23) Not even a scratch??? From a den full of hungry lions?

Shortly after that, I walked past a little Beth Moore devotional book I’d just received and picked it up to flip through it. I opened it to the day’s reading. The scripture at the top was: “Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” (Is. 40:31) Beth wrote, “The Hebrew word for trust means “to bind together by be gathered together, to be joined.” If we want to keep a renewed strength, the Bible tells us to draw so close to the presence of God that we’re practically twisted to Him.” Oh, Beth, how I wish I could stay that tangled up in God, my arms entwined around His neck, my legs around his waist, my face hidden in His shoulder.

My youngest daughter, Grace, was a mischievous little monkey when she was a toddler. I can’t tell you how many times we had to call Poison Control or the E R. She had 4 modes of operation: 1.) Crying 2.) Sleeping 3.) Doing Something Dangerous or 4.) Being Held. Before we even knew what “Multi-Tasking” was, I had developed the skill of being able to talk on the phone with one hand and stir a boiling pot with the other, oblivious to the little blonde appendage hanging off of me. She held my neck in a choke-hold while my waist was cinched by a tight seatbelt of skinny long legs, feet locked behind my back. (No wonder my spine’s a mess now! She’ll have to take care of me in my old age.) If I tried to put her down, those legs would tighten like a broken shoulder strap that just gets tighter and tighter the more you try to loosen it. But no matter what I happened to be doing, Grace felt safer in that place than any other.

James is like that now, although he’s not yet old enough to reach his legs around. My grandson and I have a special little deal going. I’m guessing that, on his part, it’s for complex reasons; on my part, I’m simply completely, stupidly smitten. I talked to James when he was still in-utero long-distance from Georgia to California. I made Katherine hold the phone to her baby bump while I squealed nonsense over the phone. Then, it just happened that I was the first family member to hold him after his birth. Katherine was still involved in the ‘after’ part of the birth process and Jay was taking pictures, when the Neonatologist turned around and said “Would Grandma like to hold him?” (No, Grandma wouldn’t like to hold that perfect little bundle of joy...Right.) As soon as I took him, he opened his beautiful bright eyes and looked straight into mine. We bonded even more during the tumultuous first week of his life, fleeing the raging Malibu fires engulfing Pepperdine. I was blessed by getting to spend quality time with him on several other occasions before our world turned upside down, the last less than 2 weeks before it happened. So I guess it is not surprising that in the first confusing days after Katherine’s surgery, that abruptly-weaned baby should sniff some similar DNA and emotionally latch on to the substitute with Mommy’s hair. (The latching, although precious in some ways, has been problematic in others. There was a time when James did not recognize Katherine and was very frightened by all the machines attached to her. When I tried to get him close enough for her to touch him, he would cry and grab a handful of my hair in each fist, bury his face in it, and try to crawl up into me. Thank God he is beautifully re-bonding with her, and is sweeter with her than anyone else...angelically so.) Anyway, the fact remains that James still feels safe with me. He can be hollering up a storm as someone else holds him, but quiets down when I take him. He trusts me to protect him from whatever frightens him, whether it’s a stranger, a loud noise, or an unfamiliar experience.

This was demonstrated during his first swim. Brooks and I took him down to the apartment pool and I eased him in with me. At first he clung to my neck, but as we got in deeper I loosened his grip until we were just holding hands. I whirled and swirled him around in the cool water until he laughed with joy. He kept his eyes locked on mine the whole time, as if to say, “You better not let go,” but it was evident that he trusted me not to. He just relaxed and let me pull him through the water, finally resting in a face-up float. He didn’t even cry when water went up his nose.

I learn so much from children. My own have helped me understand how much God loves me. “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him ...” (Matt. 7:11)

I am scared about many things right now, sometimes so much that the fear awakens me before the light of morning. But the first thing I see is the shadow of the cross shining in the dark. When I turn on the lights, it disappears. It is only in the darkest times that it is visible, reminding me that the cross remains over me and all my household as I sleep. The blood spilled from that cross covers me, cleanses me, heals me, frees me, fills me.

The nightly apparition simultaneously appears to be a large “t,” pointing me back to the morning’s readings on the pivotal issue of TRUST. Do I trust Him or not? Do I trust in the provisions the cross has secured for me? Do I trust His promises to hold true? Like Daniel, will my trust in Him keep me and mine from harm? Will I choose to take the advice of Job’s wife, or am I going to learn to echo Job: “Though you slay me (or worse, my child), I WILL TRUST IN YOU”? God, will I trust that you are still with me when I can’t see you in the cold, clinical light of another daunting the sight of the cross disappears with morning’s light?

I am going to try to follow James’ example and just cling to my Daddy with all my might. I’m going to try to get more tangled up in Him than the hopelessly tangled necklace in the bottom of my jewelry box. I am going to wrap myself around His Name and His waist and trust Him to teach me to swim.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Yesterday, I strolled the little Love Nugget into Katherine’s room around lunchtime. She looked smaller, diminished somehow. The bed was in the ‘sitting’ position, but she had sunk down in the middle, shrunk up into a little ball. Her eyes were red and her lips were slightly swollen. It reminded me of how she looked in the aftermath of some perceived childhood injustice. “Did you hear?” she (mostly) mouthed a little sheepishly. “I failed.” “What?”I asked. “The test. I failed the test, Mom.”

Those are words I have heard very rarely coming from that particular pair of lips.

The test in question was the swallowing test, which was conducted just before the procedure on her vocal cord. It revealed that we still have a long way to go.

“Have you been crying?” I asked, stating the obvious in order to get some processing going. “Yeah. A little. Dad, too.” Prior to this past year, I had witnessed my husband of 32 years cry on only 5 or 6 occasions. (Everyone’s getting better at it now....although I, for one, have never had a problem with it.) “Dad, too?” I echoed. “Yeah, ‘cause I was.” Then Katherine looked at me intently through her red and blue eye. “But I’m okay. I'm okay. I cried, but I’m okay.”

Last week we had a similar experience. Jay, his mother, Mary Ruth, and I were invited to attend the rehab staff meeting. Although we were very glad to hear positive reports from the speech, physical, and occupational therapists, I voiced some concern that we had never really had an opportunity to sit down with a doctor and get the Brain 101 course. We had learned things in bits and pieces from various sources. I said that I thought it would be valuable to have someone start at the beginning and fill in all the blanks. The staff agreed that this would be a good idea, and that we would work towards setting up a time when the main family members could all be present for it. But Katherine and I were alone in the room when Dr. R. came by later. He told me that my request had been passed on to him, and that either he or another doctor would be happy to sit down with the family and thoroughly explain exactly what had happened to Katherine and what the consequences of that were likely to be. I turned to Katherine, “I know you must have some questions you’d like to ask, too.” “Yes,” she addressed Dr. R., “My ear...can’t face....can’t feel...why??” Suddenly we found ourselves getting a lot more information than we were prepared to get. I felt a flutter of panic rising as medical “facts” started flying in our faces, knocking the wind out of us: Katherine’s surgery had been incredibly difficult. It was a remarkable feat that her life had been saved, but certain “sacrifices” had to be made in order to accomplish that. “Sacrifices” involving cranial nerves 7, 8, 9, and 10, as well as parts of The Brain Itself. Because of these “facts,” the deafness in Katherine’s right ear will be permanent. Her facial paralysis and other symptoms (such as the impaired swallowing mechanism) related to the affected nerves will be “persistent.”

Sometimes ignorance is bliss...or at least comfort food.

As soon as Dr. R. left, Katherine and I stared at each other with the drop-jawed, eye-rolling, incredulous, are-you-believing-this-junk expression. “Mom. Mom, how am I supposed to model if I can’t move my face?" (i.e., “Does this mean the bill-paying livelihood has been jeopardized???”)

We kept staring at each other for a few stunned seconds of silence. I cleared my throat. I started in on a speech about God’s Plan B. I talked about how He probably had something FAR better for her to He had already used what had happened to her for unbelievable people’s lives were being...

She interrupted me.

"Mom. I’m okay.

I'm okay, Mom. I'm okay.”

In spite of fear, disappointment, spite of deaf ears and frozen faces and broken bodies and broken’s okay.






After she reassured me by reiterating that yesterday, she gestured towards the designated ‘Nugget’ and said, “Now hand him to me.” I lifted her chunky little monkey out of the stroller and into her arms.


“...Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.” (Horatio Spafford)

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”
(II Cor. 4:8-10)