The Rock-Climbing Wall- for Austin

When my son was 10 or 11, we went to a school fair that had a rock-climbing wall. For the price of a few dollars, you could put on the safety gear and challenge yourself. Austin headed straight for it without hesitation.

While gazing up from the safety of the ground, I watched my son climb higher and higher with confidence and determination. As he made his way up, my heart swelled with excitement for him and I found myself beginning to chant, “You can do it! You can do it!” He made it all the way to the top, rang the bell of victory waiting there, and bungeed down. Seeing the big smile of accomplishment on his face was wonderful… similar to seeing him make the winning out in the championship baseball game, but that is a story for another day.

So very different from his mother who approaches life in the ‘safe’ way, Austin is unafraid to put himself ‘out there’ despite risking failure. From climbing rock walls to expressing his love for others, he realizes that there is no point in holding back. Anyone who knows Austin- really knows him- understands what a good friend he is. If you have a bad day, he is the one who will act so unabashedly goofy to make you laugh that you just can’t help turning your mood around. He is quick to forgive and is known by true friends for his compassion. He celebrates victories with those he loves and shares in their sadness when they have losses in their lives. When he was a very little boy, he loved giving hugs; one of my friends with an older child warned me he would probably outgrow that- he never did and I am so grateful.

My prayer for him and others in my family who are so loved is that they see themselves through God’s eyes and ours- what a glorious day that will be.

Climb on, my son, you’ve got this!

Of Turnip Greens and Other Things- for Lana

Farm

The fondest childhood memories I have are of the yearly trips at Thanksgiving made to my grandparents’ farm. As the weather turned a little cooler and the cornflower skies appeared indicating autumn had arrived, anticipation grew exponentially. My own childish excitement was so great (as was my mother’s patience during the eight hour drive), that I couldn’t help uttering that same old question all kids do… “Are we there yet?” at least every half hour.

Oh, I definitely looked forward to seeing my grandparents, aunts, and uncles (all of whom I loved tremendously), but the absolutely best part was seeing my cousins. There were many in number, and several of us were fairly close in age. There was an older group, a middle group, and a younger one- Lana and I fell into the middle group and it was the best. Thoughts of all the fun we would have- horse rides, playing hide and seek in the barn, sneaking into the hayloft, climbing trees, tractor rides with Grandpa, “helping” Grandma milk the cow-made that long drive seem as if it lasted forever. As we passed by cotton and sugar cane fields, my young mind would process that we were finally indeed getting closer. At last we would make the turn onto the dirt road comprised of Louisiana red clay and I knew that the big green barn with the white trim would soon be in sight.

As time passed and we outgrew (for the most part) childish things, I still looked forward to seeing my cousin Lana every year. We stayed up late and talked for hours about school, boys, dreams we had for the future, boys, places we wanted to visit… boys. Though she may have felt differently being two years older, I couldn’t get enough of her and never tired of her company.

One morning, the ‘older’ group of cousins and adults took a trip to the field to harvest turnip greens; I think Lana and I were 13 and 15 years old then. My job was to scrub the many bushels of turnip greens being brought in by the truckloads. (So, maybe there weren’t many bushels or truckloads, but it seemed that way at the time.) I worked for what felt like hours to a lazy teenager, unaccustomed to ‘hard’ labor, and finally sat down for a break when Lana arose from her luxurious slumber and meandered into the kitchen to have a gander at the freshly scrubbed leaves drying in the sink. It was at that moment when my Grandpa entered the room.

Famous in our minds for his hugs, endearing term of “honey-bunch”, strong work ethic, and long tractor rides, Grandpa was well respected by us all. He looked at me, looked at Lana, then looked back at me, scolding, “Now why are you sitting there while this poor girl has done all the work? You need to get over here and start helping her.” Imagine the betrayal felt when my darling cousin said not one word in my defense, but instead shrugged and had the nerve to smirk! I went back to the kitchen and the darn turnip greens while she poured her coffee, shamelessly yawned and stretched, and returned to her room for a little nap.

Though time and physical distance has separated us, when we speak on the phone it is as if nothing has changed, our souls reconnect, and we can again talk for hours. The turnip green story always comes up.

A second chance at life

After working solely in a charge nurse role, today was the first day in at least six months that I took a full patient assignment; I was riddled with anxiety upon awakening this morning, hoping I would remember what to do and how to keep my patients alive for the upcoming 12 hours, being absolutely ridiculous… and then I read the poem sweet Claudia had shared with us all.  Anxiety dissipated as I pondered the meaning of these words:

Our Greatest Fear
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that
other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

One of the patients God placed in my path today received a liver transplant two days ago. From Arkansas, he was transferred to our hospital in an acutely ill state. His wife is a nurse and made plans to be at the hospital for his liver biopsy which was to take place this past Monday. Mr. M shared with me that his wife said her prayer would be that they would receive news his biopsy was cancelled due to a liver being available. When her husband placed a phone call to her early Monday morning to deliver that very message, it took several minutes for him to convince her it was true.

As he shared his story, Mr. M cried for the donor family expressing sadness for their great loss and enormous gratitude for the second chance he had been given. We spoke about the greatest gift to them being his living his life to the fullest.

When his extended family began to arrive from Arkansas, the love in the room was immense. Mr. M was again moved to tears when his pastor made an eight hour drive to be with him.

Each small step made today was a celebration of life. He and his family were simultaneously nervous and excited as they watched the progress. He had his first meal since his surgery, had his catheter removed, worked with therapy, sat in a chair, and walked in the hall. When I prepared to start an IV in his arm, it took about ten minutes to convince him to let me stick the vein. He made me laugh as he kept asking, “Are you sure? You really think this is a good place for it? I just don’t know…” Everyone in the room erupted into laughter when I was fortunate enough to hit that vein with one stick and he said, “Wait… it’s in?! That wasn’t bad at all!” One of his daughters inherited her father’s gift for making others laugh showing it when I pulled his central line out. She asked if she could watch, then said, “I think I want to watch. But wait, maybe not. I’ll just cover my eyes a little… but I really do want to see. Kind of.”

Tonight, Mr. M’s daughters left the hospital to begin the long trip home, fortified by the knowledge that their father was going to be okay and comforted by the strong bond of family. His wife embraced the children she had not given birth to but loved as if she had. She spoke to me about their marriage. They are still newlyweds, having married last September after both being in tumultuous relationships in the past. She said that she never thought she would remarry, but God had given her time to begin to live for Him when wondrous things started to happen. When her husband got sick, she said that he was so strong in faith, telling her, “God wouldn’t have put us together only to have us lose each other so quickly. He has greater things planned, and we are about to see His greatness.” This lady’s light was described in the poem shared by my beautiful sweet sister, whose light has touched and changed us all forever.

As nurses, we are invited into people’s lives at the most intimate times. We share in their triumphs and heartbreaks, and must never forget what an honor and privilege that is. I remember some of my own darkest times in nursing, when I’ve felt discouraged and overwhelmed. It has been those times when God has sent me angels, immediately and with His perfect timing, to remind me that He places people in our lives at just the right moment. Our patients that He sends to us are our greatest teachers.

As I close my eyes to sleep tonight, it will be with gratitude for the Light I witnessed today, and with prayers and love for all of you. Thank you, Lord, for the miracles you are performing for our family and for second chances.

Evacuation in more ways than one

It was September 2, 2008, and I was driving back home from my brother’s house in Jackson. My two dogs, the cat, and I had evacuated on the eve before Hurricane Gustav was to make landfall. Fortunately, my son had evacuated earlier with his grandparents since I had been at work and therefore left New Orleans too late to avoid the contra-flow. I spent the following day in safety, and returned home the next morning.

As I was driving south down I-55, the remnants of the hurricane were raging…the sky was black although it was the middle of the day, visibility was next to nothing because unrelenting sheets of rain were coming down, the wind was blowing fiercely, and the radio blared tornado warnings about every three minutes.

My cat was in a pet-keeper in the front seat (he had become half-feral over the course of two days, but was finally sleeping), and the two dogs restlessly occupied the back seat. Obviously opening the windows was out of the question. As the dogs grew whinier, I kept trying to soothe them knowing there was nowhere to pull over.

We drove on, and then there it was…

As the stench came rushing into the front seat, the poor cat awoke mewing pathetically. At the same time, both dogs attempted escape from the back seat by simultaneously trying to leap over my shoulders, one on each side. I pushed them back, and then frantically started looking for a towel while yet another tornado warning screeched on the radio. Little flecks of dog excrement were flying everywhere. Finally I found a blanket on the floor and managed to cover the mess in the back seat thus settling the dogs a bit. Thinking, “Oh, wow, I still have about two more hours to drive before I get home,” I ran my fingers through my hair and down the side of my face. That’s when I realized my hand was full of dog crap.

Now I won’t call the name of the culprit…but it was the big black one with the crazy white eye. Poor thing, he hates storms and must have had the worst nervous stomach of his young life.

Before, I left his home, my brother had given me a bottle of water for what we both thought would be a relatively short trip- I still had half of it left. Thinking it might help, I poured it over my hands, but as one might imagine, diluting the mess served only to make it worse.

I looked at my hands, looked at my clothes, and then did the only thing I could- wiped my hands down my shirt, shorts, and bare legs.

At the Jefferson Parish line, there was a checkpoint for those re-entering the parish. Because I am a nurse, I had a paper to allow early re-entry. As I slowed to a stop at the checkpoint, the two officers took one look at me and waved me through without my even rolling down the window- certainly couldn’t blame them.
When I finally got home, all of us rushed out of the stinky car with more of the… um… stuff… flying through the air. My neighbor was at her front door offering a warm hello and asking me to come over. Though glad to see her, I said, “I might be a while…”

In need of a shower more than ever before in my life, I still had to laugh. We were blessed that the brunt of the Hurricane had missed us and that I had a house to come back to!

Taking the gloves off finally…

boxing gloves

When I was a young girl, one of my uncles taught me how to throw a punch. Since I was always a bit of a loner, he must have sensed I’d need to be a fighter.  He wanted to make sure I grew up strong and confident, ready to face any battle… neither of us could have imagined the battles that I would wage against myself.

Almost 34 years ago, my mother married my step-dad, and our families merged. It takes a special man to love a child that another man created as if she were his own- that is what he has done. Though I still had my father at that time, he treated me like I was another of his daughters and welcomed me into his family. He had four grown children (three daughters and a son) who graciously accepted my mother and me even though they must have been struggling at the time with the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. I was too selfish to see that… it was all about me, and sadly, it remained that way for a very long time. I fancied myself a fighter- putting the boxing gloves on to fight to be a part of the family (I was too stupid to realize I already was a part of it), and fighting even harder against that family I loved when they embraced me. My siblings- after all this time, we’ve lost the “step”- have always been there for me, for all life events (major and minor) and have included me in theirs. Instead of welcoming the love I always craved, I orchestrated my own self-indulgent battles by imagining myself to be a heroine overcoming circumstances rather than the truth of victimizing myself with poor choices. I moved two states away, determined I didn’t need anyone, all the while perfecting the art of passive-aggression (sometimes just plain aggression) and self-pity. At least half of the past decade has been wasted battling abusive relationships, depression, and the self-imposed anxiety of not being good enough. My brother and sisters NEVER did anything to cause me to feel that way- it was something I chose.

Christmas day, my brother Hank was severely ill- his wife and daughter rushed him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with sepsis and pneumonia, which later developed into ARDS. Getting the news that the man we all love so dearly was in ICU with an uncertain prognosis shook our family beyond what any of us could imagine. With his loving wife and kids by his side, he has made a miraculous recovery. Though he has a long way to go to reach full recovery, he is well on his way, and we are grateful and encouraged to know that he will be ok.  The power of love and the power of prayer… his and his wife’s is a truly great love story and we who are blessed enough to witness it have been changed forever.

Hank has a kind, gentle soul; a man of integrity, he is the “rock” of our family. Along with tears of worry and fear while he was battling for his life, there came the scalding, acidic, snot-pouring, selfish sobs of shame, regret, and guilt. I thought of the times he told me he loved me and I didn’t say it back.  There were the times, too, that I tried to push him away- he wouldn’t let me get away with it and would physically grab me in a big hug. I am so happy he never gave up on me despite how hard I tried making that happen.

Recently, I thanked two of my sisters for letting me know I belong in the family. One of them said, “Baby, you always have,” while the other replied, “We are so glad to have you back in our lives.” My God, what an incredible gift it is to have a second chance.

Today, I visited Hank; to be able to tell him I love him and hear those glorious words returned has the snot flowing again, but this time in a good way. My sister, Claudia, speaks of the light that we all carry inside ourselves; it battles the darkness far more powerfully than any set of gloves.

A Hank Story

A healthy fear of my brother Hank kept me on a straight and narrow path in high school; he is the reason I wasn’t expelled from Bayside and went on to nursing school. I lied to him thirty two years ago- the fact that it still has me riddled with guilt proves that A). I was born to be Catholic, and B). I could never be a successful bank robber. Someday soon, I’ll simultaneously apologize and thank him.

I think I was in ninth or tenth grade, and was beginning to run with the wrong crowd and get into trouble. My best friend and I, with all the worldly wisdom that 14 and 15 year olds possess, decided we could get away with whatever we wanted. There was a boy… (how many stories start this way?)… who liked my friend and decided with all the worldly wisdom a hormonal 16 year old possesses that it would be a great idea to loan her his car for us to leave campus.
So off we went, without even so much as one learner’s permit between the two of us, leaving Bayside at lunch time then skipping our next class to drive around Fairhope. For the life of me, I can’t remember what class we skipped or how in the world we got away with it. We had big fun driving to McDonald’s for lunch, arrogantly waving to any police cars we passed, speeding around Fairhope, Daphne, and Point Clear. We did this several times…
Then came The Day. Hank was working at Crawford’s at the time. As my friend and I drove around without a care in the world, laughing and singing to music blaring from the radio, we passed a store. There was a man outside of said store in a Miller uniform… a man that looked an awful lot like Hank. I remember speeding past thinking, “Ok if I look straight ahead and don’t make eye contact with him, he can’t see me.” Hmmm. Wrong! It was precisely at that moment that a knot began to form in my stomach.
Later that night, Hank happened to come by the house (we were living at Point Clear then.) I remember it like it was yesterday, and I’m pretty sure there’s still a remnant of the stomach knot present after all these years. He came into the kitchen (I think my parents were outside in the back yard); ironically I was sitting at the counter doing homework. I decided the “cool” approach would be best, so smiled and said, “Hey!” He cocked his head back, nostrils flared, seeming to be about seven feet tall, and asked. “Did you go to school today?” I quickly replied, “Yeah,” then received ‘the look’ for what felt like about ten solid minutes instead of the few seconds that ticked by. There was such sternness in his voice and demeanor when he said, “You better be going to school.” In my teen-aged bravado mind, I thought I flippantly replied, “Yeah, yeah,” but looking back now, I’m pretty sure it came out as a meek and shaky “Yes sir.”
That was the very last time I skipped school. The following week, my friend was caught leaving campus and expelled.
Hank never ratted me out, but throughout my high school career did ask poignant questions occasionally accompanied by a modified version of “the look”; that alone kept me motivated to be a very good girl.
From time to time, stress at work accompanied by strong personalities can cause some of us (me, really) to become crabby and snippety. After relaying this story about how Hank kept me in line to some of my coworkers, they now all want his phone number.

A Missy Story

My beautiful, brave sister risked her own life to save a drowning man. She is too humble to realize her heroism.

Years ago, one February, Missy and I took a trip to Gulf Shores to vacation for a few days. It was a much needed respite from everyday life, and a chance for us to connect with each other as women sharing similar life experiences, as sisters, and as friends. We stayed up late at night, watching movies, swapping stories, and laughing so hard our sides hurt with me snorting in good measure- she always makes me laugh beyond the snorting point.

On our last day, we took a long walk on the beach, discovering a loon who had been brought onto the high ground by the rising waters overnight and was stuck in the sand. The sight of that pitiful bird, stranded and helpless, was heart-wrenching. We rushed back to the condo to call local vets and get advice on how to help the poor creature. One of the vets told us to cover the loon with a blanket, scoop him up in it, and take him to the nearby lagoon where he could be released.

Armed with an old blanket and solid determination, we made the journey to the stranded bird, all the while with Missy saying, “You’re going to have to do this, Ash. I just can’t. Are you ready?” and me replying, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” When the critical moment arrived, I froze completely unable to move. Missy (being our brave Missy) grabbed the blanket, scooped the loon up, and headed quickly to the car so we could take the frightened creature to its home. I recall that one or both of us were screaming as the action unfolded. There was never any doubt in my mind that she would be the one performing the rescue when the time came.

Upon returning to the condo with hearts still hammering in our chests, we phoned the vet to let her know the outcome. She asked, “When you let him go, did he look back at you and stretch his wings out?” In tears, we told her that was just what happened. She said to us, “He was saying ‘Thank you.’”

A foreshadowing of an even greater beach rescue that came years later… We can only imagine the man whose life Missy saved, stretching out his own ‘wings’ and impacting others.