Archives for posts with tag: Faith

Remember my friend Tina who lost everything in a wildfire? Here’s my column about her in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle. (Plus, those of you who have been following this story will enjoy these wedding pictures. Isn’t she gorgeous?!)

When hundreds of people you love live in one place, part of your heart is always there.

Always scanning the Internet for news. Always waiting for friends and family to check in on Facebook to say that they’ve made it through the latest tornado or storm.

This time, when wildfires spread through tens of thousands of acres in Oklahoma, a dear friend checked in with bad news.

Her family had lost everything. All that was left was a twisted piece of metal that had once been their home.

Their 80 acres of beautiful trees once sheltered squirrels and bobcats, birds and deer. But in a flash, nothing was left but charred tree trunks and the ashes that fell like snow after the fire licked up the leaves and the underbrush.

They had little warning and no insurance. She left with the flip-flops on her feet, some family pictures and her grandma’s treasured ring.

The fire took the rest. The kitchen table. The senior yearbook. The shampoo. The security of knowing where she would sleep at night.

Still, even though I could hear the smoke fresh and heavy in her lungs, she was grateful. And she was convinced that somehow this was a blessing – that their lives had been saved for a reason and for a purpose.

Sure enough, as the hours ticked by more and more pieces of her puzzle came together. A relative offered a rent house he had been renovating. A friend opened her closet and pulled out nearly new towels. Strangers delivered an antique bedroom set, clothes and gift cards.

Just a week after she’d felt the heat of the flames I heard her say, I have everything I need. From nothing to everything in seven short days.

I’ll try to remember that the next time the tears fall and my throat tightens with stress, the next time I’m feeling scared and unsure. If she can recover from a wildfire in seven days, surely my argument with my husband will be better by morning. Surely I’ll find a way to get the house cleaned in time for a party. Surely I’ll meet my deadline at work. Surely God – and his gracious people – will walk along side of me, too.

When it comes to daddies, I’d argue I had one of the best.

I have pictures of him pulling me as a toddler on a sled, of the two of us standing together the year he coached my softball team and side-by-side again at banquets, proms and graduations.

I have just as many pictures held not in my hands but in my heart: The portrait of him urging other church members to build a bigger building and promising to pay the mortgage himself if he needed to. The snapshot of him in front of his employees explaining that the company was downsizing but not to worry because he had found each of them jobs at nearby businesses.

And then, there’s the uncomfortable picture of Daddy confronting our minister. It seems the minister didn’t like a visitor who stopped by church, so he refused to shake hands with him. That didn’t go over well with Daddy who believed God loves everyone.

At the peak of his career, the oil business in Oklahoma came to a near halt and other industries began to crumble. While others wringed their hands, Daddy was busy shaking hands with new opportunities. “Always be different, sis,” he’d say. “Always be different.”

The only thing that ever seemed to worry him was that something might happen to one of us three girls or to Mama. “They’d have to put me in the loony bin if I ever lost one of you,” he’d say.

I think that’s why he went first, before any of us. It has been 10 years since his heart gave out on him, and for a while, it felt like my heart stopped beating, too.

That same minister who wouldn’t shake hands preached at Daddy’s funeral. When former employees were asked to be pallbearers, they said it would be an honor. Other people literally packed the hallway and spilled out into the parking lot. Cars lined up for more than a mile to escort Daddy to the cemetery.

Person after person told us what a difference Daddy had made in their lives, what joy and inspiration he had brought into every situation.

He was different, that daddy of mine. Different in all the right ways.

When my mama talks about her third pregnancy, she always says that she knew something wasn’t quite right. “It’s nothing,” my daddy would say — right up until the doctor saw that I was blue and fading fast.

Mama had been right. The umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck and arm, and I was choking.

As my parents tell it, the doctor never said a word or asked their opinions, he just reacted as a man sworn to save lives. He got me out as fast as he could, knowing that he might be causing nerve damage in my neck and arm.

Later, he would tell my parents that my arm might not ever grow or move on its own. “But, I figured you wanted her alive,” he told them.

So, my parents took me home to my two older sisters and they waited and watched. Two months and three weeks later, I moved my right arm. I could move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, according to my baby book. By six months, I was crawling — not on all fours like most kids, but I could sit and scoot with my left arm. It was progress.

Eventually my arm did grow, although it’s still a little shorter than the left. I can lift my right arm almost to my chin but my wrist seems to always be bent under a bit, something that has forever bothered me in photos.

One of my earliest memories is of having my picture taken in front of a wagon wheel that was almost as big as I was. The photographer had me rest my right arm on top of the wheel and then tried to flatten out my wrist. Within a second, it had bounced back into its U shape. She tried again. It bounced back.

The older I got, the more sensitive I became to being different — and the more determined I became to fit in. Of course, that’s hard to do when you play trombone and have to use your foot to reach seventh position or when you have to swallow your pride and ask a classmate to sharpen your pencil because the sharpener is mounted too high on the wall. Still, I managed, and I even learned a little in the process.

Ironically though, I never knew what my birth injury was called until my late 20s, when pain in my arm made me seek out a specialist in Erb’s palsy. While I was waiting for that appointment I wrestled with my arm in a new way. What if there was something that could be done now to help my arm?

Would I change it if I could? At almost 30, would I re-teach myself to tie my shoes? Would I discover that I’m not left-handed after all?

No, I decided.

I wouldn’t.

I had my arm to thank for my entire world view — a set of values that helps me empathize with others; a set of values that says there are many ways other than the “normal” way.

Like Icy Sparks, a character in a novel by Gwyn Hyman Rubio, my difference has allowed me to flourish. Icy struggles with what she comes to learn is Tourette Syndrome, and in the epilogue she says that life would have been easier without it, “but I would not be me.”

Years later, that book still sits upstairs in my office along with pictures I had taken of my wrist and arm — no longer in hiding, but out front in their rightful place. No portrait of me is complete without them.

I don’t know if it’s the closeness of the Arkansas River or a perfect mix of vegetation, but for some reason frogs always gathered in my parents’ driveway. Every evening, about the time the floodlight kicked on, we’d hear them by the garage. Big ones with bellies that barely cleared the grass when they hopped. Tiny ones that jumped from rock to rock on the gravel.

So, it was no surprise that the night my boyfriend came to meet my parents a few frogs were there to greet us. Even though we were both in our 20s, he was nervous – that is until he saw the frogs. “Can I catch one?” he asked, smiling like he was 8. “Sure,” I said, “But watch out. They’ll pee on you.”

I don’t think I had finished the sentence before he started chasing the frog that looked like the teenager of the family. Charlie would take a step toward it and the frog would jump out of his way. “You’ve got to get beside it so you can put a hand in front,” I advised.

A few seconds later, Charlie had his frog. He gingerly held it in his hands and then cradled it to his chest so he could get a better look at it. And that’s when it happened. Pee soaked his hands and the front of his meet-the-father shirt.

We had no choice but to go inside. When my dad rose to greet him, he offered his hand to Charlie, who apologized and said he’d need to wash up first. When he returned from the restroom, he sat in my parents’ living room and laughed and talked like nothing had happened.

For reasons that had nothing to do with frogs, our relationship didn’t last long. Still, I’ve come to respect how he handled the situation. Too often I try to be perfect and poised. I beat myself up for not keeping my New Year’s resolutions, for the stack of laundry in the basement and for hundreds of other ways I don’t have my life together.

Maybe it’s time I, too, said a quick apology, washed my hands and moved on. Maybe it’s time I accepted a little grace. And I could just throw that dirty shirt in with the rest.

 

 

I cry at the Hallmark channel and at the occasional country song, but even I was surprised when my eyes started to well up while checking Facebook the other day. A friend from long ago had posted a video made at her church, and it featured what they called cardboard testimonials.

It’s a simple concept, really. You cut up a cardboard box and on one side you write a problem you faced. On the other side, you write how God helped you through it. In my friend’s case, people took turns coming up to the front of the church. They showed their signs and then flipped them to show what God had done. One after another, after another.

  •  Breast cancer – survivor
  • Used drugs to feel good – Use God to feel ecstatic
  • Orphaned with no family – God provided a family
  • Brother killed by drunk driver – I have forgiven
  • $$$$ bondage – freedom obedience

For close to eight minutes the people stream by on the video, sharing some of the deepest parts of their souls in fewer than 10 words. I cried because of the pain they must have felt and I cried because I’m in love with hope, with overcoming the impossible. And every time the cardboard signs turned over, there she was – hope scratched in black marker.

I’m sure many of us could hold up our own signs. I know I would have trouble deciding on just one:

  •  Will I ever be loved? – married April 18, 2003
  • Drs said arm might not grow or move – played sports, trombone
  • The adoption isn’t going through – celebrating 3 years as family

I also have signs waiting for their happy endings, waiting for God to help me over, around – or even through – mountains of doubt and troubles. But those signs will come, too. Eventually I’ll be able to flip them over and share testimonies of hope.

My marker is ready.

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