Friday, February 17, 2017

The Day We Lost Him

We lost him long before we lost him. And we didn't know that he was truly gone for a really long time. We kept waiting for him to come back to us. We waited for the feel-good movie ending where the coma patient opens his eyes, looks around, wondering where he is while his loving family cries and gathers around. And that's just not the way it went for us.

It was a Tuesday morning, and I was at school. I got a call from my sister that my dad was being rushed to the hospital after a fall off of a ladder. She said my mom was upset, but I still didn't understand exactly what was happening.

Do I need to come?

She said yes. And so I went downstairs to tell the office that I needed to leave. When my husband called a few minutes later, he was telling the same story, but he used the word "unconscious". My sister Kari hadn't said that. That's when I felt the urgency. I got into my car, and I rushed to the hospital in Arlington.

I relive that day in pieces.The scariest parts stick out the most. 7 or 8 of us crowded into a tiny room in the ER. Waiting for the doctor to come tell us what on earth was going on.

Bleeding on his brain. 

A blood clot. 

Emergency surgery. 

A waiting room filled with family and friends.

Before his surgery we went back to see him. He looked like himself. Or himself after a fall. A little bleeding. He was a little disheveled. He wasn't awake. But he was going to be fine. A little surgery was going to fix him right up. I just knew it. We were scared, but we held hands, and I prayed over him before he went into surgery. And then we waited.

Pastors came to visit. Friends and family came to sit with us. But before long, they told us that the surgery was done. It had gone well. We were able to go see him, and even though his blood pressure and heart rate seemed a little inconsistent, he seemed fine. We all kind of breathed a sigh of relief, even though we were unsure of what would come next.

My sister Ashlae and I decided to run a quick errand, since our babies were on their way to the hospital with their dads. We hadn't come prepared for an all-day hospital stay with kids. But just a few minutes out of the parking lot, we got a call to come back to the hospital. It looked like my dad might not make it. We turned the car around, and I panicked. I prayed out loud in the car.

Please, God, do not let him die. Do not let him die.

And I started to realize that this might not be so simple after all.

We had no idea what kind of damage was done as a result of my dad's fall. There was so much swelling in his brain. The neurologist said that we wouldn't know anything much until he woke up. We never considered that he might not wake up.

For several days, we waited for his heart rate and blood pressure to stabilize. There was a tangible burden lifted when the doctor finally told us that he thought my dad was "out of the woods". He said the recovery might be slow, but we would just have to wait and see. We expected that within a week or two, he would be fine. Even if he wasn't completely healed and back to himself, we never expected what would come next.

What came next was waiting.

Long days of uncertainty. Days turning into weeks. Weeks turning into months. Hospital visits. Short conversations with nurses about medical procedures and conditions that we didn't understand... until we did. Scary he-is-not-going-to-make-it moments... except he did. Songs sung by a hospital bedside. Scripture read. Prayers prayed. Conversations where we would talk and try hard not to notice that he wasn't talking back.

He woke up in the only ways his injured brain would let him. The occasional eye flutter. The slightest hand squeeze. The doctors said it was all nothing. I will never believe that it was nothing. But I also know that he was never fully aware. And I am thankful that he wasn't. It would have been a hard way to live life, unable but also aware.

We had him for eight months like this before he was gone. Like really gone. We had said the things we needed to say. We were tired. He was tired. With one illness, he was freed.

On the day of my dad's accident, we had so much hope. It was a hard day, but we believed that God would be faithful and that His will would be done.

Here we are, two long years later- and can I just tell you- we still have hope. We will see him again. And we still believe that God is faithful.


My faith has been shaken.

I don't understand why.

Some days prayer doesn't come easy.

I miss him terribly.

And it still doesn't feel fair.

And for now. This is just it. This is how it feels. This is what we have.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Obituary You Never Got

The Obituary

Tommy Jene O'Dell, 71, of Grand Prairie, Texas, passed away peacefully on October 22, 2015, at 12:11 a.m. at Baylor, Scott, and White Hospital in Irving, Texas. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in February of 2015, resulting in an eight month coma before his passing.

He was born on August 14, 1944, in Columbus, Mississippi, to James and Kathryn O'Dell. He was saved in March of 1960 and surrendered his life to ministry in September of that same year. He served in the United States Air Force from 1962 to 1966. After his time in the Air Force, he moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he met his wife Sandi. Bro. O'Dell was an old-fashioned preacher, singer, silly song writer, and musician. He loved his family, his preacher friends, missions and missionaries, thrift store shopping, Alabama football, Coca-cola with lots of ice, road trips, bargains, and telling jokes.

Tommy O'Dell is survived by his loving wife of 45 years, Sandra, and his children, Craig (Tammy) O'Dell, Kari (Clay) Hix, Julie (Jake) Turner, Jana (James) Beauleau, Ashlae (Florian) Kloes, and Adam (Stephanie) O'Dell. He had thirteen grandchildren that loved him and his silly songs and stories. He is also survived by his siblings Julia (Ron) Senechal, Michael (Deborah) O'Dell, along with his nephews and nieces.

Bro. O'Dell was a faith-filled pastor, evangelist, and missionary, dedicating his life to making Christ known. Through his life and ministry, churches were planted and lives were changed because of the gospel he shared. He was faithful until the very end. He will be missed.

The Rest of the Story

My dad was a fan of obituaries. He read them every morning over breakfast. If you ask him why he was reading the obituaries, he would say "To make sure I'm not dead yet".

I think his fascination with them came from his love of people in general. He liked to read about their lives and families. As a pastor, he liked he see what religion they were, and where their services would be held.

Over the last ten years, he had a handful of restaurants where he would go to read the newspaper, read his Bible, and have his breakfast. Sometimes he would come across something interesting in the obituaries and take a picture of it with his phone and text it to us. So it seems strange that he didn't get one. There was a death announcement in the local paper, containing the bare minimum of details. But no obituary. My brother was going to write it. Then I was going to write it. Then time passed, and I kept thinking that I would get to it. But it just felt too hard. How do you summarize the life of a person that meant so much in a few paragraphs? There will always be things that are left out. Stories that are untold. A man is more than his birth, education, jobs, and survivors. So this finishing of his obituary was hard but necessary. I needed to have it written.

But obviously, this isn't all there is. I could write all day and never quite get it right. But bear with me for a minute as I try to tell you who my dad was.

He was a servant of God. After church functions, he didn't wait for other people to start cleaning up or breaking down chairs and tables. He worked like he was the only one working, and sometimes he was. He was an early riser, heading out the door to head to the church before most people had gotten up. He studied God's Word in so much detail. His office was filled with books and resources. He put 2 Timothy 2:15 into practice. He was a teacher and a preacher and a shepherd.

He was creative. He was known for his "sermon songs", as he called them. He would take old country songs or other familiar tunes and put different words to them, telling Bible stories or talking about funny church situations. They were all humorous in nature, and people loved them. He would write poems that he used during his sermons or gave as gifts. When we were expecting our first baby, I returned the favor, writing him a silly poem to tell him that another grandbaby was on the way.

He loved his family. My dad wasn't the type to take his daughters on daddy-daughter dates. That just wasn't who he was. But he loved us in other ways. He poured into us his love of songs. He gave us the gift of music, a thing that has always brought us together. Many days after his accident, we stood beside his bedside, singing the hymns that he taught to us, giving back to him what he gave to us. As adults, he would give us AAA memberships for Christmas so that if we locked our keys in our cars, we would have someone to call. I was clearing out my email this week, and I came across numerous emails from my dad with moving quotes from trucking companies. When we were moving from Delaware back to Texas, he researched endlessly to get us the best prices. This wasn't something we asked him to do. He just did it because he cared. On the first Mother's Day after I had Jude, I went home for a visit, and he presented a mother and child diamond necklace to each of his daughters. I cried when I opened mine. My dad was generous in quiet ways, giving without recognition or announcement. Underneath a tough exterior, he was exceptionally compassionate. He didn't think twice about pulling large bills from his wallet when he came across someone with a need. He loved people in practical ways.

If you look at my dad's Facebook profile picture, he is standing with my brother and another church member, wearing a hazmat suit. He never publicly explained why he was wearing the suit, but let me tell you the story:

A elderly couple in my dad's church had bedbugs. They had been dealing with the bedbug infestation for years, but they had never been successful in getting rid of it. When my dad found out, he bounced into action. He made phone calls, sent emails, called local authorities, and spent weeks trying to figure out how to help this family. Eventually, he found a company in Houston, Texas that would help. He arranged to have the home covered with a tent and fumigated. He booked a hotel room for the couple so they would have a place to stay while their home was being taken care of. After the tenting, my 70-year-old dad went into the home and cleaned from top to bottom. Thus, the hazmat suit.

After he passed away, I was clearing files from his church computer, and I came across something that made me smile. He had actually typed out step-by-step instructions to give to the elderly couple, instructing them to take their potentially infested clothing and put it into a trash bag outside their hotel room door. He had given them new, bedbug-free clothing to change into. He then took their dirty clothing and washed it before returning it to them. So much effort for something that was not his responsibility. But he made it his. If you had a problem or a need, he would work to solve it or to meet it.

It has been a whole year since he passed away. It's still shocking and it still brings me to tears. Right after his death, his sister, my Aunt Judy, passed away. There was a big reunion in heaven that day.

I'm in no hurry for my life to be over. I like being a mommy to my babies and watching them grow. But I have to tell you that heaven sounds a little sweeter knowing my daddy is there. But until then, he lives on. In every family picture, in every "Roll Tide" we yell, and in every song we sing.

We love and miss you, Dad.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Taking and the Giving

The night my dad died my brakes went out on my car. I was driving home from being at the ER all day. I had left him peaceful and restful and very much alive, though still in a coma. But this was our normal, his silence, and it had been for eight months. There was traffic, and as I was driving across the ramp to transfer from one busy freeway to another, I pressed down onto my brake to slow down and nothing happened. Just my foot pressing the pedal all the way to the floor. I was not too far from home, so I managed to make it without incident by using my emergency brake.

I walked into my empty house, ran to the bathroom, and I took a pregnancy test. It may seem like an odd priority to a regular person, but to a woman who is desperate to have a baby, it is normal. When the test was negative, as it had been for several months in a row, I cried.

I don't usually kneel down when I pray. Maybe I should, but I just don't. But on this night, I fell onto my knees in desperation beside my couch. I cried and prayed and begged God to do something, to give us something. I was tired of months of what felt like nothing. My dad was still not awake, and I was still not pregnant. Both of these things felt equally heavy. Life is valuable, and I was feeling the heaviness of all of the life that was missing. My prayer wasn't pretty. Or even intelligible to the average person. Thinking about it now, it was probably a lot like Hannah praying in the temple for a son. I probably looked like I had too much to drink. But both Jake and Jude were still at church, and it was just me and God, so it didn't matter. I'm not sure how long I knelt there. I don't remember what I said exactly. I just needed God to move.

That night before I went to bed, I remembered to turn my phone ringer on. That morning I had given the ER staff my number as the primary contact person for my dad, and even though I was exhausted I had a moment of clarity in remembering that. I hadn't been asleep long when the hospital called. The nurse on the other end of the line thought the family should come back to the hospital. I have to admit that I wasn't really alarmed. We had done this before. I hoped that this night would have the same, that-was-a-close-call-but-ended-okay outcome as the other times had. I got up, got dressed, called as many family members as would answer the phone. No one was frantic. This was becoming a common thing.

But my sister called as I was getting off the interstate at the hospital exit. She had already arrived at the hospital, and my dad had already passed away. I had missed him by just a matter of minutes.

Exactly one month after my dad left this life, I got a positive pregnancy test. I had already taken several tests that were very, very negative. So this positive one left my head spinning. I couldn't believe that we were being given another baby. Not now. I was still deep in grief over my dad, and this? Well, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go. For several months before his accident, my dad had been asking us about another baby. We needed a girl, he said. Out of his thirteen grandkids, nine of them had been boys. That's a lot of testosterone. And the youngest of the four girl grandkids was already almost school age. He was waiting patiently for another grandbaby and hoping for a girl. He had already started scouring Craigslist for a suitable minivan for us. This is what he was good at, hunting down deals and bargains. This was one of the ways he loved us. So this happy pregnancy news was clouded by the sadness of the relationship between my dad and this baby that wouldn't be. Not in this world, anyway.

The night we found out that our girl was a girl, we had a family dinner. I opened up the box with a surprise pink outfit, revealing her girl-ness, and I cried. I loved the thought of another girl to balance out our family. I felt the generosity of God, giving us the thing we needed. But there was a tangible absence. There always is at family events now, and I really felt it that night. All of the sweet things are a little less sweet.

I don't know why God does things the way He does them. I mean, that's kind of an understatement. But when it comes to the life and death things, those feel hard to understand. We have moved and had weird job transitions and there have been uncomfortable times in life, but we have come back from those with a deeper faith, more confident of God's sovereignty and goodness. But death is a tough one to reason out. Even for those of us who firmly believe in heaven, death is still a huge loss, even if it's only for now. There is still grief. I don't know why my dad couldn't have had the miraculous recovery we all prayed for. There are people who get those kinds of stories, you know. But he didn't get the kind of healing we wanted. And with that, lots of future things have been taken from us. He won't get to meet her the day she comes into the world. He'll never put this baby on his knees and sing Shortening Bread, like he did with all of the other grandkids. So many things we have lost.

And I don't know why. But it's not really up to me to figure the why. God takes, and He gives. And all the things that He does are good. All are right, even when it doesn't feel like it. He is God, and I am not. And so I trust and trust and trust some more. I trust Him in the taking and the giving.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Don't We Have Fun?

My days are Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those are the ones that are set in stone. I don't miss those days. Then on the weekends I add either Saturday or Sunday, depending on our schedule as a family. Either way, three times a week, I drive to Irving to visit my dad at the skilled nursing facility. Some days it is a struggle to get into my car and make the 40 minute drive. I miss out on tucking my son into bed, or I end up getting home way past time to start dinner, depending on the day and my visiting time. Sometimes I am just plain tired, and I don't feel like doing anything at all. But I am always glad once I go. I am always glad to get to spend time with my dad, even in this current situation. Some days I take my guitar. I play him songs that I have spent my life hearing him sing. I take my Bible, and I read to him. Occasionally, I take my worn copy of My Utmost for His Highest, given to me by Mr. Tant, my high school math and science teacher. I sometimes have to read those twice, just to be sure I am getting it. But I take advantage of the fact that my dad is still living. He is still with us. It may not look the way we want it to look, but he is still here. There is so much for which I am grateful.

Several months ago, I met Ms. Bonnie*. She regularly sits in a wheelchair in the lobby, and she always calls out to Jude, who promptly runs the other direction. I usually pick him up and walk over to her. He is good at high fives, and she is content with that, even though she always asks for hugs. So I started stopping by to visit Ms. Bonnie even on the days when she wasn't out in the lobby in her wheelchair. I found her room, and there is rarely a visit where I don't see her. 

But one day, last month, Ms. Bonnie was resting. So I peeked behind the roommate curtain to say hello to her neighbor, and I met Ms. Carla. Carla was holding a baby doll, patting its bottom the way a mother does when she is trying to soothe a baby to sleep. She was talking out loud. To no one. And about nothing, I soon realized. 

Carla has dementia. It didn't take long to realize that. Most of the time she is talkative, but most of the sentences she puts together make no sense at all. Sometimes she struggles to find the right words to use, and other times she is happily oblivious to the fact that she is not forming understandable sentences. But she is cheery, and she greets me with a smile, even though I am a stranger. I have a feeling that everyone is a stranger to her these days. So we pretend like we are old friends.

Now we make it a point to go see them both. Bonnie is quite the napper, a woman after my own heart, and so, most often, it is Carla we see. She can almost always be found in her bed, holding a baby. She squeals with delight when I bring Jude to see her. She asks for a kiss, but like Bonnie, she settles for handshakes. When we leave, she always calls out "I love you!". We always tell her we love her back. Because everyone deserves to hear that.

Last night I went to visit my dad, right on schedule. During a time when a nurse was tending to him, I slipped out of his room and headed down the hall to say hello to my two favorite ladies. Bonnie was sleeping, just as I figured she would be. But Carla was lying in bed, watching music videos on BET, patting her baby's bottom like a good mama should. 

Is this a channel that you like?

She responded with words that didn't make sense, but her tone and facial expressions communicated that she was just fine with BET. I have a feeling in her regular life, she was not a BET watcher.

I asked about her baby, as I always do, and she told me that baby Addie slept in the morning but not the rest of the day. I asked her how she herself was doing, and she told me stories. Long stories. Stories that I couldn't decipher the details of, but I knew when to act surprised and when to laugh. I am positive that she was a character before her mind betrayed her.

I picked up a framed picture from her dresser. It was a younger Carla, probably 20 years ago. She is dressed in black dress pants and a holiday sweater. Her gray hair is perfectly sprayed in place, and she looks very classy. She is sitting on the stairs of a house next to a blonde little boy, probably 8 years old. She looks really happy. I asked her about the picture, and she couldn't tell me who anyone was. I told her that she looked beautiful in the picture, and she understood. She looked kind of embarrassed and flicked her hand at me, as if to shoo away the compliment. 

She looked sad when I told her that I had to leave. I told her I was going home, and she wanted to know where home was. I told her I lived in Fort Worth, and she said "I knew it was somewhere in that vicinity," which was the most coherent thing she had said all night. 

"I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing", I said.

She picked up baby Addie, looked her straight in the eye, and said "Oh, we always have fun. Don't we have fun?" 

And she kissed that plastic baby on the forehead twice before laying her back down on her chest. 

And the way I see it, if sweet Ms. Carla can find that kind of joy in the middle of her hardship, then so can I.

As I walked out the door of her room, she called out one last "I love you". 

I love you, too, Carla. Love you, too.

*I have changed Bonnie and Carla's names to protect their privacy. Because that's the nice thing to do.

Monday, August 10, 2015

How the Affordable Care Act Failed Me

I am not a political person. I don't watch the news. When election time comes, I educate myself as much as is necessary to make an intelligent decision. I do vote. But overall, I don't have the energy to watch Fox News and CNN and then balance the two to try to come up with the truth of a situation.

Today, though, I will tell my story. And it sounds political. I will tell it because what happened to me is so incredibly unfair, and I feel like someone needs to know about it. Hopefully my voice will make a difference for someone else. It is a long story, but it is a story about life and it is a story that matters. It is also a story about death. But maybe it didn't have to be.

Several weeks ago, on a Saturday, I felt weird. I felt dizzy and nauseous. Something just felt off. I was at home sitting on the couch, and when I stood, I felt a strange tightening across my abdomen. I hadn't felt that since... well, I was pregnant with my son. I mumbled an excuse to my husband Jake for why I needed to make a trip to the grocery store, and I went. To buy pregnancy tests.

Positive. Two pink lines. I felt nervous and excited. I cried a little when I broke the news to Jake. We were going to have a baby. Such happy news after months of hard things.

I knew that I needed to see a doctor quickly, but it was Saturday, so that would have to wait until Monday. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at eleven weeks, so I knew I may need some intervention to sustain this pregnancy. My hope was that, come Monday, I would find a doctor, get some blood work done, and start taking progesterone supplements. The supplements had made a difference with my second pregnancy, so I was counting on them to help with this one.

Monday came, and I tried to find a doctor that took my Marketplace insurance. Obamacare. We had enrolled in March, but we had not had to use the insurance yet. The problem was, out of the 68 OB/GYNs in my area that were listed as providers, I could not find a doctor that actually was a provider. I called the insurance company. Everyone I spoke with seemed to know that their lists were not accurate, and each representative agreed to help me find a participating provider. I was told that someone would call me back when a provider was found. I called doctors. The insurance company called doctors. I called back to the insurance company on Tuesday. And Wednesday. Not one of the providers that had been called were still accepting my insurance. So I changed strategies. I called the Marketplace.

My purpose in calling was to see if I could change insurance plans. I needed a plan that was widely accepted. I needed to see a doctor. The longer I went without progesterone, the more nervous I became about the little life inside me. The Marketplace representative said I might qualify for special enrollment since I was pregnant. I might be able to change plans. She did a little bit of typing and checking on her end. What happened next is unbelievable to me, even still. She said that I qualified for Medicaid, and so she had to submit that application for me. She also said that she was terminating my insurance effective that day. I tried to tell her that I didn't want to apply for Medicaid. I wanted to keep my coverage, but I just needed a different plan. It didn't matter.

What if I need to go to the emergency room tomorrow?

Medicaid will cover it if you are eventually approved.

But what if I am not approved for Medicaid?

Basically, she said, I would be responsible for paying for it myself. She said that since I qualified for Medicaid, I could not keep my Marketplace plan. She had no choice but to drop my coverage, despite the fact that I had paid premiums for coverage through the end of month. By the end of that call, I had no insurance coverage, and I had been forced to apply for Medicaid.

I got in my car, and I drove to the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center. I needed care, and I needed someone to help me to get into a doctor quickly. I felt like time was running out. The people at the pregnancy center were kind and compassionate. They gave me a list of doctors who might take me as a self-pay patient since I no longer had insurance. I spent the afternoon making calls. Several doctors wouldn't see me because I was considered  a high risk patient. The last doctor I spoke to said that he would see me, but only with a $500 deposit, in addition to whatever charges I incurred from my first visit. He could not, however, see me that day. In the end, at the suggestion of a friend, I called and scheduled an appointment with a local midwife who agreed to run my blood work at cost. I scheduled another appointment with a nurse midwife, in case it turned out that I needed a prescription for the progesterone.

Friday's blood work looked good. Progesterone level needed to be a little higher. Monday's blood work showed the thing I had prayed against. My HCG levels had dropped. I was going to lose the pregnancy. By Tuesday evening, I was actively miscarrying. I was devastated. I am still devastated.

Wednesday I kept my appointment with the nurse midwife. She was compassionate and helpful. She listened to my story, and she performed an ultrasound to make sure that my body was handling the miscarriage like it should. She helped me put a plan in place in case I got another positive pregnancy test. The appointment cost me almost $200, and of course, I had no insurance or Medicaid to cover it. I scheduled another follow-up appointment that would cost another $100.

In the end, I was denied for Medicaid. Because I worked in the last 90 days, that income was used to determine eligibility. Apparently, the Medicaid qualifications that the Marketplace has are not the actual qualifications. I was dropped from my insurance and forced to apply for something for which I did not even qualify.

I know that it's possible that this pregnancy might have ended even if had the progesterone supplements that I needed. But at this point, I will never know. I needed medical care, and I did not have access to it, thanks to the lack of providers in my area. When I called to see if I could change plans, to increase my chances of receiving care for my baby, they took that coverage away from me. It just feels wrong that a plan that was supposed to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare was the very thing that prevented me from getting the care that I needed in time.

I don't tell my story to start a fight. This isn't meant to fuel a conservative vs. liberal fire. Maybe there are thousands of Americans who have had wonderful success with Marketplace insurance. It's possible that there a hundreds of success stories, stories where Marketplace insurance saved the day and saved a life. If that's the case, good for them. But something has gone very wrong when a pregnant woman that needs urgent medical care can't get it.

This is my story. My situation. Marketplace insurance failed me. It failed my baby. And my baby matters.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Bike in the Bushes

The summer after I turned nine, my family moved to Rotorua, New Zealand. We moved into a little house at 3 Totaravale Street. I have incredibly vivid memories of living in this house. I remember a tree in the front yard that had perfect Y-shaped limbs. I would climb up into this tree with a pillow and a book, and I would rest my pillow on the upper branches of the Y to lie back on and read Nancy Drew. The backyard had red clay, and I dug it up by the handfuls, positive that I would be able to make my own dishes out of it. I was sorely disappointed when I went outside after two days of letting my clay cups sit in the sun and they were still clay-like. No handmade dishes for me. I also recall wetting the bed in this house. I was old enough to get up, change my own sheets and clothes, and pray that no one noticed. Lots of funny kid-like memories here.

But the thing I remember the most about the house on Totaravale is the hill. If you walked outside our front door and turned to the right, there was a slight hill that led up to a cul-de-sac. It was a bike rider's dream. We hadn't been in New Zealand very long when my dad found a deal of a group of used bicycles. There were, at the time, five kids in our family, so purchasing bikes for all of us was a costly thing. But everywhere we ever lived, my dad made an effort to make it home by purchasing bikes and trampolines and whatever else children needed to pass the time. So we got new-to-us bicycles. For whatever reason, I will blame it on being the middle child, I got a bike with faulty brakes. And by faulty, I mean that it had no brakes. I was not a daredevil, and so for a while, this suited me fine. I would ride slowly down the street, dragging my feet when necessary to slow down and stop.

Then there was the hill. We all learned to love to ride down the hill. It was fun without being too steep. It was the perfect balance between cautious and carefree. I always chose to ride on the sidewalk because the street was just too uncertain. There were too many things that could go wrong riding in the street, especially without brakes. There was next to no traffic on our street.  I mean, the house number was a single digit. Just a handful of houses on a quiet little street. So the danger was more imagined than reality. Even so, the sidewalk was my safe place. Until.

One Wednesday- I remember it was a Wednesday because we had church- I was at the top of the hill, and I braced myself for a thrilling ride down. I began to pedal slowly and started to gain momentum. Then I saw it. Straight ahead of me, a car was pulling out of their driveway. They were backing out slowly, and I noticed that they saw me and stopped short of pulling into the road. At this point, they were blocking the sidewalk with their vehicle, and in my head, I was left with only two reasonable choices. I could veer to the left and ride my bike into the street, missing their car completely and probably safely returning to the bottom of the hill. Or I could swerve right and land directly in their bushes. A normal person might have chosen the street. Not me, though. I was nine, and I was scared of everything. I chose the bushes.

The next moments were humiliating. They got out of the car and helped me up. I managed to roll my bike back across the street to our little house, and my mom felt so bad about my scrapes and bruises that she let me stay home from church that night. As a preacher's kid that was in church at least three times a week, it felt like a nice consolation prize. But that day, I let my fear of the unknown supersede logic. Logic would have said to ride into the road. Fear said to choose the painful thing because then at least you know what's coming.

I am 38 years old now. Most days, I am not the fearful kid I was when I was 9. Most things don't scare me like they used to. But I still hate uncertainty. I hate walking a road when I can't see what comes next, and unfortunately, that is most of life. And since February 17, my dad's life has hung in the balance. Following a traumatic brain injury, he has sat in a coma and the outcome is no clearer today than it was the day of his accident. We have no idea how this will turn out.

We go to visit him regularly. We walk ourselves through the motions, telling him that we are there. We check his monitor and allow his blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels to tell us how he is. This is how he speaks to us. We get warm washcloths, and we clean his face and tell him stories about our day. I apologize profusely for having to impose on his personal space like that, and I remind him that he often did this for me as a child. We read Scripture and play music and pray over him. And we cry, even though we try not to sometimes. It feels terrible to leave him, and I always feel pangs of guilt as I go back to my car and my ability to speak and walk and drive. And he is just there in bed, helpless. It's the hardest thing I have ever done.

I have to tell you, that it is not getting easier. We aren't adjusting to life without him. We are missing him more and more each day. Faith is harder to come by at week 15 than it was at week 1. Hard decisions are having to be made. He is going to be moved into a Skilled Nursing Facility next week, and that just feels like too much. We have prayed over and over that it wouldn't come to this and yet, here we are.

Can I just be honest with you here? On my most faithless days, I think to myself

God, if you are going to take his life, just let him go now. Let him be reunited with his mom and dad. He has served you faithfully for over 40 years. Let him be at peace now. 

And in part, this is for him. But it's also for me. Because even though it is not the answer we want, it is an answer. The uncertainty of what comes next feels like an unbearable weight. Some days, I would rather ride right into the bushes and just feel the pain of the crash than have to ride into the street and not know what comes next.

There are lessons to be learned in the street, though. And while I do not believe for one moment that God allowed all of this to transpire because we all need to learn lessons, I think every hard situation we walk through is an opportunity. To exercise our faith. To grow our trust. To learn to rightly navigate deep waters. To realize our complete and total dependence on a Sovereign God. To learn to suffer well. (Thanks, Angela, for this reminder)

So we ride in the street. No brakes, no control. Moment by moment. We are given grace for each day. And I want to walk this way always. I don't want to walk away from friendships because I feel like a friend may be pulling away from me first. I don't want to walk away from a dream because I am afraid of failing. I don't want to shut down the potential for growth and change because it feels hard to do. I want to choose faith and hope.

We're riding on, Dad. We are believing in, praying for, and counting on healing for you! You are so loved.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Well Behaved Women

Well behaved women seldom make history.  It is a quote often incorrectly attributed to Marilyn Monroe and Eleanor Roosevelt, but is actually a book by Mormon feminist Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  She used the book to highlight notable women in history, such as Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. While I certainly understand the original intention behind the book, I have to say that I can't wholly agree with Laurel's assessment of well behaved women.  Well behaved women make history, change the course of history, even, every day.  I should know.  I am the daughter of a well-behaved woman.

My mother is a gentle soul.  If you are blessed to know her, you probably know that she and I are complete opposites in many ways.  I am loud, and she is quiet.  I am bold, and she is cautious.  I am a confronter, and she is a peacemaker.  She is well behaved.  And me?  Well, I try.

She talks about how she grew up wanting to be a nun, before she realized that being a nun required being Catholic.  She just wanted to serve God.  And so God took the willing heart of a little girl, and he planned something greater.

She married a preacher when she was only 20.  And for over forty years, she has followed him wherever God led.  Across states and oceans and back again.   She has sold and re-bought housefuls of furniture and has made-do and sacrificed in the name of obedience to Christ.  I have seen her struggles, but I have never seen defiance.  She has faithfully relied on God as her direction and provision for as long as I can tell.

She became a mother when she was only 21, and spent most of the two following decades caring for babies.  She taught at Christian schools so that all six of her kids could have a Christian education.  She parented us with repeated little phrases that we still repeat to one another like "It's always right to do right" and "Pretty is as pretty does".  Those phrases were true when she started saying them, and they are still true.  She woke us with early morning songs and lots of clapping.  She made chore charts, and the words "pitch in" were regularly on her tongue.

My mother has always been resourceful. A woman with six kids has to be resourceful. When we were younger, our least favorite thing was when we found something we wanted to buy (or to be bought for us), and mom would whisper "That would be so easy to make". But now, my sisters and I say the same thing... because Mom was right. So many of my clothes were homemade. Taffeta dresses for school banquets, sweatshirts with puff paint for my middle school cheerleading days, bedroom curtains in teal and purple. As a child, I remember hours of thrift store shopping, stretching small amounts of money into complete wardrobes for six children. We were always well-dressed while mama dressed us. And ironed. Wrinkles were not acceptable. They still are not acceptable.

I watched as my mother battled depression, and I saw how she dove head-first into Bible study and prayer to bring her through it. I have pictures in my head of her at the kitchen table, Bible and notebooks and pens spread across. These are wonderful things I hope to model for my family, too.

Over the last few months, she has watched as my dad's life was so fragile, so uncertain. He has been on the verge of passing from this life several times. With every infection and fever and prognosis, she has been right there, praying and hoping. We have all grieved the loss of him from our daily lives, but no one feels it like my mom. Everything about her life has been turned upside down. She has had to be brave and make difficult decisions. Until the day my dad wakes up, more difficult decisions will be hers to make. And still, she is praying and hoping for the moment that he wakes up. She talks about their Alaskan cruise they have always wanted to take. I believe they will get to take it. It's just a matter of time.

You might not see her name in the history books. She is not famous. But she has six children and thirteen grandchildren whose lives have been shaped by her influence. There are people all over the world who have been impacted by her life and ministry.

My mother is faith-filled. She is kind-hearted and sympathetic. She is a listener, a counselor by nature. She loves people, and she loves Jesus.

She is indeed well behaved.

And I think she's pretty special.


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