Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Heroine in My Book

(Quick side note: I took Katy to meet her teachers and see her classroom today for preschool. She is SO excited. She keeps wanting to look at the calendar to find out what day she gets to go to school and stay by herself.)

I was awake for an hour and a half in the middle of the night last night thinking about someone that I ran into yesterday. I can't stop thinking about her, in fact. If a heroine is "a woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for her brave deeds and noble qualities," then she is one, indeed. If you have a few minutes, make sure and read to the end, because there are a couple of surprises along the way.

When Katy was an infant, I was in a woman's Bible study at church. There was another woman in this study who I'll call M. She was very interesting because she was from England, and she had met her American husband over the internet while seeking technical support for a computer. At the time of the study, she had a preschool aged daughter, a 10 month old girl, and she was in the middle of a Surprise! pregnancy - which turned out to be twins. The twins were supposed to be 14 months younger than her younger daughter. Ooops. Throughout the study, my impression of M was that she was overwhelmed, somewhat negative and sarcastic, but polite. I don't mean this in a judgemental way, because you could certainly use that sentence to describe me at times. But it was very apparent that she was having trouble adjusting to the situation she had found herself in.

Shortly after the study ended, we started getting emails about M. A problem came up in her pregnancy. The twins had a rare condition in which they were not sharing nutrients equally (<---- extremely simplified explanation), and the prognosis was not good. She delivered the twins extremely early - I believe it was 25 or 26 weeks, and a very long NICU stay began. One of the boys lived for one month, and then he passed away. Even though I barely knew M, I bawled when I found out. It just seemed like her world was crashing down around her. I had heard through the grapevine that the other baby boy had come home eventually, but I hadn't heard about or seen her since then.

So last night we went to church to register Katy for a children's program there. When we entered the chaotic classroom, I was talking to the teacher and trying to keep the kids from running wild. As I finished my conversation, I looked over to see Katy talking to a woman and her small son, who was in a wheelchair. Katy must have asked her about the boy, because the woman was saying things like, "His arms and legs don't work as well as yours, but he understands you if you say hello," etc. I realized after a moment's pause that this woman was M. As I walked over, I saw her son for the first time, now 2 and a half. I've worked with kids with disabilities for years, so I could tell that he was very involved. Cerebral palsy, feeding tube, hearing aids, nonverbal - the clinician in my head made note.

I didn't say anything at first. I assumed she wouldn't recognize me, and she was doing an incredibly amazing and gracious job talking to Katy - showing her how she could feel the extra air coming from his oxygen tank, etc. I took the opportunity to meet her beautiful boy, who was so smiley it was contagious.

But then she looked up and shrieked, "Don't I know you?! From Bible study?" and was so genuine and wanted to know about the kids, etc. So then I asked her, which of her kids would be here in Katy's class (for 3 and 4 year olds). She pointed over to a 3 year old girl sitting in a bean bag chair, wearing one of these:

It turns out that her 3 year old got hit by a boat swing carrying 100 pounds worth of children and snapped her femur in half. She's already been in the cast for 7 weeks, and they are estimating 3-4 more months. Just as I thought my jaw couldn't hit the floor harder...
She then walks across the room and picks up a baby hiking backpack with a baby girl inside. "Wait a minute! Is she yours, too?" I ask her. "Yes," she smirks, "I slipped her in under the radar. She's 12 months."
So for those of you keeping score, that means she has:
* 6 year old girl
* 3.5 year old in a lower body cast
* 2.5 year old with multiple disabilities.
* 12 month old.
But all of that isn't what makes her a heroine. Challenging circumstances alone doesn't make her a woman of distinguished character. But here's what I can't stop thinking about: she was absolutely radiant. I can't think of a better word to describe her than JOYFUL. In fact, she seemed like a different person than the one I had known a few years ago. I barely recognized her demeanor. Despite all of the trials she has endured, she actually seems like she is happier now than she was then. Is this possible?
And if so...why? Of course I don't know her well enough to even guess. Is it perhaps true "that which does not kill us makes us stronger"? Or did her experience deepen her faith, so that she is relying so deeply on God that the burden is lifted? Or was she just so tired and scared when she was pregnant that it masked the true M, who has always been this joyful?
I don't know, of course. When I said to her, "I don't know how you are even here?" and she said, "You know, people say that to me all the time. And my only answer is that I have to be. I could either curl up into a ball on the floor and cry, or I could smile, be thankful, and get through the day. How can I not be happy with this (motioning toward her 4 children)?"
So I'm thinking a lot about M. I fear that given those types of circumstances, I would chose the crying over the smiling. I want to be more like her. Even now. Distinguished courage and noble qualities. Joyful, radiant. That is my sincere prayer.


Weed said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm ashamed to say that I forgot all about M. After Bible study I read her blog and followed their story closely, but then she stopped updating, and eventually I stopped checking, and she fell off of my radar. What a joy to hear how she is doing!! What a beautiful soul.

Emily said...

I was thinking of you, Weed, as I wrote this because I knew you would remember her. I haven't thought about her in a while until I ran into her.

Dutcher said...

No WAY, EM! You are courageous and noble all the way!

Physibeth said...

Thanks for sharing Emily! What an amazing of God's strengthening grace and mercy. The verse that comes to mind when I read this is James 1:2-4 "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

Oma Froehle said...

I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes . . . make that running down my cheeks. The road to joy is not usually beautiful. Sometimes it hurts---a lot. But I think you pass the point where you think you can do it by yourself . . . and rely on God alone.

Jen said...

You would be surprised at what you are capable of if you had to be. I always told people that of all my siblings, God gave Angel a child with Down syndrome because she is the strongest and could handle it. Fast forward 3 1/2 years later, and I too get the same blessing. Would I have specifically asked for a child with Ds? No way! Am I thankful for Emmaline and our journey together so far? Absolutely! God knows what we need and will never give us more than we can handle. I went through a couple month process of growth and acceptance after Emmy was born. I appreciate the little things so much more now and know that I am a better person because I am her mommy. Thanks for recognizing the challenges of being a special-needs mom and for sharing the joys too!