The winter of 2003-2004 started out cold.
Our son Michael and his wife Carolyn calved out their growing herd of cows here at our ranch during February and March, using our calving pens and barns. They camped here in an old trailer house, and warmed many cold newborn calves in that trailer, next to the wood stove. The little bedroom served as a holding stall for several calves that needed more time in a warm place, including the extra calves from several sets of twins. Those calves eventually got a mother, adopted by cows that lost their calves from various problems.
Andrea’s little family continued to have their share of problems. The evening before her first birthday, baby Samantha fell off Charlie’s bed and hit her head on the floor. Andrea rushed her the 12 miles to town, to the emergency room at the hospital, fearing that Sam might have a concussion or neck injury, but her head and neck seemed ok. The next morning it was obvious that her leg was hurting; she cried whenever that leg was moved or bumped. The emergency room doctors hadn’t checked her limbs; they’d been more concerned about her head.
Andrea tried all that day to reach a doctor, and finally took Sam back in to the hospital emergency room that evening for an x-ray and found that the leg was broken. After it was splinted, Sammy started crawling again, since it no longer hurt so much. She was so active, however, that it hadn’t started to heal by the time they took a second x-ray a couple weeks later, so the doctor put a cast on the leg. It didn’t slow her down at all; she crawled just as fast dragging that cast as she had before the injury. But the leg healed very slowly and the cast had to stay on 2 weeks longer than the doctors predicted.
Lynn and I struggled through our calving season in March, getting up at nights to check on the cows, realizing we were becoming much older and more tired than we cared to admit. Helping our children (Michael and his family with their cattle, and Andrea with her struggles to take care of her growing family in spite of her disabilities) took a lot of our time and energy, but we rejoiced in being a family.
One thing that helped me keep going during the hard times was the continuing deep friendship with the mothers of two other burn victims—whose paths we crossed during the summer of 2000. One of them lost her daughter to burn injuries and the other mother struggled with the ups and downs of her son’s fight for life during 3 months in the burn ICU. We three mothers began corresponding after that summer (more details about this in my book Beyond the Flames), and we became an informal support group for one another. We shared our journey—our fears and struggles--as one mother tried to cope with grief and loss, and two of us wrestled with the ongoing traumas of our wounded but healing children.
I continued to thank God for the unexpected and wonderful blessings that evolved from our plunge into that pit of despair the summer of 2000, and one of the most appreciated blessings was the friendship that grew between us 3 mothers. As I wrote to one of them in February 2004, “I feel that in many ways we are kindred spirits, and getting to know you has been a delight and a comfort; I feel that the support we give one another is something that God intended and I am so very thankful for it. It has certainly helped me through my rough times and is part of the many-faceted "tutorial" that has helped me grow. You will be forever a part of my unexpected journey.”
“I sympathize with your feeling of tiredness and just wanting to let go--and have a long rest of some kind. Our bodies seem to keep betraying us as they wear out! And it seems like such a long haul sometimes. It would seem that eventually we should have earned the privilege to slow down, but it just doesn't happen! There are too many demands upon us and they seem to just keep coming.”
“The one bright spot, however, when I pause to look back at all we've been through and all we've had to do in the past few years, is a feeling of awe--in trying to envision how we actually did get from A to B. I know I've had some Outside Help. And that's the little ray of hope I keep holding onto... that the Help will keep coming when I need it, and I can continue to struggle along and make it through the rest of the journey.”
Indeed, that was the greatest thing I learned from this life-changing ordeal: that I can trust, and not worry. Even when I forget—and start worrying about the little things—the larger lesson soon confronts me and I realize that my life, and that of my family, is in God’s hands, and that I need to let go of my fretting and stewing and simply love and trust. There will be some rough times, but ultimately we will make it through this journey because we have a Guide who loves us.
I’ve come to believe that our mission now is to help one another, to make the journey a little easier for someone else, as others have helped us. We realize now that life is all about sharing, and helping one another through the tough times. Our various trials do help us get things in perspective (if we so choose--I think some people just sink into despair and self pity, and never see the gifts that adversity can bring). The bad parts of our journey can certainly help us appreciate the good parts, and realize that we've had some wonderful times along the way. Like one old cowboy said of life, "It was a great ride while it lasted!" Indeed, none of us know how long it's going to last, but if we can do our best with whatever time we have left, it certainly makes us feel happier, more purposeful, more complete.
When we stop to think about the good parts, the many blessings, the love of family and friends, we realize those things make it all worthwhile and make the bad parts much more endurable. Adversity can also make us realize what we still have (the glass being half full, rather than worrying about it being half empty, so to speak). Andrea, for instance, is a great inspiration to me because she came through stuff I consider unendurable--and she not only endured, but is glad to be alive and to have a chance to do some things. She knows she will always have some health problems and impairments, but rather than worry about those, she concentrates on what she CAN do and goes on with her life, grateful for what she has, and the opportunities to help other people.
The thing that impresses me most about the "journey" our family embarked on, that summer of 2000--when plunged into a strange land without a map--is the Love that surrounded us, that gently guided us, that brought us through the terrible turns in the trail, even when we couldn't recognize the trail or see our Guide. I have always had a certain amount of faith in a Creator who loves us, but never really understood the depth of that Love, nor the good He wishes for us (and the selfless love for one another that He wants us to be able to enjoy), until the rug got jerked out from under me and I didn't have the strength or resources on my own to make it through the jungles and bogs that suddenly surrounded me. There is NO WAY I could have dealt with this stuff on my own; I am too weak. We had a lot of help that summer, and it continues to enrich our lives, in a deeper understanding of what life is all about. No matter what happens to us, we are loved. In spite of pain or grief or death, we can come through it. Not on our own power (at least not on mine...it's pretty puny!) but with love, like the love a father has for his child. And we know we can trust in the Father’s love.