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The Day I Compared My Mum to a Crow

“My mother is like a watchful crow” began the poem I had written as a gift for my mom. I was convinced it would bring her tears of joy—amazed by the exquisite talent of her 7-year old daughter.

In reality, my mom impressively stifled a laugh, then sputtered her appreciation for my little “sonnet”. Somehow, she managed to look past being compared to a crow and focus on the gratitude I was attempting to show for her dependable presence.

In the same way, God looks directly at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7), and receives the little gifts we offer Him as tokens of infinite worth. While we can’t earn God’s love, no act of service that overflows from a grateful heart will slip by unnoticed.

In this coming year, let’s prayerfully strive to replicate God’s attitude in how we accept others’ presents.

Perhaps you’re getting ready to tackle your list of “thank you” notes, and wondering how you can sincerely express gratitude to Aunt Betty for the hand-croqueted, picture-frame she stitched. I don’t think you can convincingly will your heart to overflow with gratefulness. If you aren’t seeing the appeal of a fuzzy picture-frame, taking on a tone of appreciation probably won’t convince anyone. And, you can be sure of one thing: you aren’t fooling the “Big Man Upstairs”.

So, pray for a change of heart—from one that is focused just on the present, to one freed to see past the temporary items. Shift the focus from the gift to the person who gave it to you. Tell the giver exactly how their presence has impacted you. It doesn’t need to be a dramatic story about how they convinced you to leave the circus and go back to school.

Just be honest, such as: “I love the example you provide me of prioritizing people over activities. You inspire me to do the same, so I’ve really valued the opportunity of getting to know you better this year!” And, in your effort to describe the blessings others bring to your life, take my advice: don’t compare them to a crow.

My mother is like a watchful crow,
She sees your every move.
She knows when you are good or bad,
Or when you are just you.

She’s always there,
Whether you do or don’t need her.
But when it comes time for bed,
You know you’ll always see her.

“Poem” by Laura, age 7

When Christmas Isn’t the Happiest Time of the Year

With the joyful endings of cheesy, Hallmark movies, comes the subconscious expectation that somehow during Christmas, everyone will get along, then snowflakes will fall at precisely the right time and in a perfect quantity.

It would make a terrible greeting card, but for many people, Christmas isn’t the “Happiest time of the year”, but actually one of the most difficult.

For me, this season will forever be tied to the anniversary of the big car accident that nearly took my life, four years ago and just five days before Christmas. Of all seasons, it is in this one that my family and I are most aware of our mortality and that nothing on this side of heaven can be taken for granted.

A season that often incorporates time with family also makes strained relationships or absences excruciatingly clear. The annual nativity plays prepared by my large group of cousins when we were kids provides a perfect example. Soon after announcing that a play was going to be attempted, a disagreement would often ensue over who was directing, the make and model of Mary’s donkey, and the finer points of the bible story and the parts to be enacted. It would often end with Mary or Joseph concluding the final rehearsal on non-speaking terms with the other party.

Our little nativity plays dealt with quite a set of high-maintenance actors and directors, so problems were aplenty right from the onset, for instance, pinning down roles. One year, my 5-year-old cousin exclaimed that he refused to be “no stupid wise shepherd!” Our cast also included actors with a reputation for quitting just moments before curtain call.

My family provided foster care for many precious infants, whose presence sometimes coincided perfectly to allow for a real, live, baby Jesus in our nativity plays. When this was the case, Mary, and sometimes a wise man or two, would become aggressive lobbyists for the job of cradling baby Jesus.

So, on a nearly annual basis, our little plays would unintentionally point to the real fact of Christmas: its occurrence was an act of divine intervention, requiring the awe and wonder of all. We would have kept the true Christmas spirit much more accurately had the pervading emotion been one of grace for our fellow actors (or sheep, as the case may be).

While we now laugh off those childish expectations for a Broadway worthy nativity reenactment, the fact remains that we still do—consciously or not—set impossibly high hopes of this day, and get disappointed if it turns out otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, it may still be one of your best days ever, filled with lots of warm-and-fuzzy moments and meaningful gifts. But it’s just as likely to be far from perfect and make you extremely aware that you’re not in heaven yet.

This year, how about this for a change? Expect that not everything will be perfect, laugh about the mishaps and then strive to fill your heart with gratitude. Shift the focus from your wish list, to the greatest gift of salvation, which you’ve already received. Let our love for others flow out of our thankfulness to God for His gift of salvation to us.

 

 

 

The Courage To Grieve

I am not at all claiming to be an expert on the varied topic of grief. Although there may be familiar elements between individuals’ grief experiences, their paths are distinctly unique.

With that in mind, it’d be ridiculous for me to make any sweeping generalizations regarding how to grieve or what to expect. I do not know what you’re going through, nor can I claim insight into what is to be anticipated. That said, I think a common thread among the different grief journeys is that completing them well requires a special courage.

My own experience with grief started from a horrific car accident that resulted in the loss of my plans, many of my cherished pastimes, and inadvertently, also some of my identity. The latest blow came this past fall, when I was told that I wouldn’t be given a full-time job in speech pathology, which I was hoping for.

As a speech pathologist, you have two years after obtaining your master’s degree to complete your clinical fellowship in order to gain full licensure. I was exactly half way through this supervised internship when the accident occurred. As a result of my severe injuries, my stint was cut short and in the year following the accident, my full-time job was attending doctor appointments and rehab sessions. I used countless pages of paper telling the state licensing board why I probably wouldn’t be meeting the two-year licensing deadline and requesting for an extension.

While completing my own physical therapy, I volunteered over 400 hours at two fabulous medical facilities. At the first one, I completed administrative tasks cheerfully and to the best of my ability, clinging to any verbal encouragements I received about an eventual offer for a clinical fellowship. However, I wasn’t offered one and my time volunteering there eventually ended without an offer of employment. At the second facility, I volunteered many more hours, again hoping to be offered a job as a speech therapist.

I put every effort into making it happen, but eventually realized they had no intention of hiring me full-time. The end of the second volunteer position came as a huge blow, reviving the hopelessness I had felt after the accident. I had thought I’d worked through these feelings, believing that I had been able to put the loss behind me, but now, it all came back.

I have learned that grief is not a linear process. Even after appearing to have resolved a particular loss in a mature way, it is likely to pop up again, sometimes when least expected. Situations may also arise which require the individual to face these emotions a second time—or for the 1,000th time.

It takes courage to embark on a path that, while necessary, will surely be painful. False inner voices or those outside your own head may give you the impression that you’ve already worked through that grief, and that it’s time to move on. But the truth is, it may not always be the case. With the necessary boldness, unapologetically admit that you need to grieve.

Grieving is hard—and often daunting—work. It requires endurance to accept that as an individual, or even in supporting a loved one, you are in it for the long haul. Life is not going to return to what it was before, although you may find joy beyond your imagination. Boldly leave room for the potential of that joy to come.

To grieve well is to acknowledge the feelings of pain while also, in time, to take steps towards healing (such as re-connecting with friends after losing a loved one).

This 19 December will mark the fourth anniversary of my accident. The life I led before the accident seems like a memory from just yesterday, but at the same time, so foreign that it feels like it came from a different lifetime. I have almost no emotional connection to the gregarious, active and capable young woman I see in pictures from before the accident. I’ve come further along in recovery than I could’ve hoped for during the initial months after the accident, while, at the same time, I’m not as far as I would wish.

I’ve learned that it takes courage to acknowledge that even in the midst of grief, there may be moments of happiness. It doesn’t need to make sense or be consistent with an overall emotional experience; there can be happy times even during long journeys of grief. It can be beneficial to put on “blinders”, so that you can only see what’s directly in front of you. What you already have, here and now, in this moment, is everything you need at this point to honor God. Try not to dwell on the possibilities or expectations about how your grief will unfold.

Not following a preconceived script on the way one “should” grieve requires courage that will shape your outlook towards the future.

The Day I Got Hit By A Truck

It was fall 2012. Like many millennials, I was over-committed to a variety of service and extracurricular pursuits—none of which I was willing to subtract from my life, but the sum of which left me completely drained.

I was in the process of accepting the invitation to become a deacon at my home church and in an essay, had penned a few lines reminding myself of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It said, “One of the current lessons in this stage of my life is that God is always providing what is good for us even when we aren’t getting what we think we want (however good and noble those desires may be). In the painful times of receiving continual ‘no’s’ to my plans, I will try to think back to this time and know that God is sovereign over all circumstances and is working them out for my ultimate good.”

I couldn’t have imagined how I’d be challenged to live out those words in a journey I would soon begin.

Laura at her graduation, 6 months before the accident

Less than a week before Christmas—exactly half way through my clinical fellowship as a Speech-Language Pathologist—my parents and I had to attend my grandmother’s memorial service in another state. I was going to play my cello during the service, so we squeezed the large instrument into the already crowded vehicle. We buckled our seatbelts and said a prayer, dedicating our trip and the upcoming memorial service to God. I took a seat in the back of the van and quickly succumbed to sleep.

Several hours into the drive, a momentarily lapse of attention caused our vehicle to drift and collide with an 18-wheeler semi-truck. By a divinely-ordained coincidence, there were two off-duty nurses driving in the opposite direction on the highway at the time. They pulled over and ran across to come to our assistance. Later, we learned that they were fellow believers.

The van’s side was peeled back as if by a can opener, and I was dangling in the open space, held by the seat belt tethered to my waist. Due to the severity of my injuries, any incorrect movements by well-intentioned strangers could have easily killed me or left me paralyzed.

Picture of the horrific crash

One of the nurses attended to my mom, who was unconscious, while the other nurse supported my broken neck. My dad was conscious but in a serious state of shock. An ambulance took me to a local hospital to be stabilized, then I was transferred by helicopter to a larger facility that was better equipped to handle my serious injuries. Thorough testing revealed that I had suffered a moderate-severe traumatic brain injury and had broken many bones, including my jaw and several spinal vertebrae. Initially, my family and friends were given very sobering predictions regarding my future physical and cognitive abilities.

At the time of the accident, I was wearing around my neck a silver pendant I had inscribed with the Hebrew phrase “Talitha Koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” This is based on Mark 5:41, which tells how Jesus spoke those words as He raised a young girl from the dead.  I had always been drawn to the story, recognizing that Jesus assuredly answers our cries for healing, although His response may or may not come in the restoring of physical ailments.

I was treated in several hospitals for a total of 72 days—of which I have no memory. I advanced fairly quickly from being bed-bound to using a wheelchair, then from using a cane to walking unaided, and also from relying on a ventilator and tube feedings to breathing and eating unassisted.

Laura in a medically-induced coma just days after the accident

Now, nearly four years and innumerable hours of physical therapy later, my deficits are largely invisible at first glance. You can see the scars on my petite frame only if you look closely, and you might not notice the weakness in the left side of my body. I use subtle, compensatory strategies to make up for my poor, short-term memory—which I am likely to experience the rest of my life. Being a very determined person, I have pushed myself hard in physical therapy, but some of the activities I once loved to do are currently still impossible for me, including playing the cello.

I don’t know why God allowed this accident to occur. But more importantly, I also don’t know why He allowed me to experience such a remarkable recovery. My oldest sister, Annie, died suddenly and tragically when I was less than a year old, so I grew up personally experiencing God’s love and sovereignty and understanding that His character remains constant despite sudden changes in life plans. I am grateful that even before this accident, I knew I was secure in God’s hands and that He was sovereignly guiding my life. In my case, His “Talitha Koum” for me has included amazing healing that came amid huge losses, uncertainties, and complete shake-ups to my plans.

Throughout this journey, which has included moments ranging from nearly unbearable grief to amazement and joy, I have valued the lessons God has gently reinforced, and which I will continue to appreciate throughout my life. I have had a few, very dramatic and life changing years, but I do not consider the resulting uncertainties to be wholly unique to those often faced by others in my age group.

Even if an 18-wheeler didn’t collide with your plans, this time of your life is usually marked by choices that could determine your future. Choosing jobs, starting relationships, other moves . . . the possibilities seem endless. Some ambitions may seem elusive, while in other cases, you may be fearing the consequences of bad decisions.

As in the earliest days of my recovery, I find it most comforting in such uncertain times to hold on to what I know to be true. For a Christian, the unchanging character of God and His sovereignty over all situations offer the assurance that He is above any circumstances. It gives us resilience.

Although we can’t predict what our life journey will look like, if it is done for the honor of God—given to Him for use—we can be confident of it being used by the Creator to have the greatest impact. The older I get, the more I realize just how little I can control.

Thanks to my damaged, short-term memory, the initial months after returning home from hospital included the painful, daily discovery of my newly-acquired deficits. One time, when I was experiencing the raw, bitter reality of these losses, I typed a note into my iPhone as a constant reminder: I hate not being able to run, rock climb, work, play my instruments like I used to, be as independent as I used to be, involved in the ministries I used to be, or as social as I used to be . . . But I’ve currently been called to a very unique, emotionally and physically strenuous role. May I live each day in a way that is worthy of this calling.

There isn’t a lot we can control in life, but we can direct our response to glorify to God, then rest in Him however the situation plays out.

Picture of Laura meeting the two nurses

Picture of Laura meeting the two nurses