The summer of 2004 brought more adventures, including 2 orphan calves. One morning that spring when I went outside to do chores I saw a cow in the field above our house lying on her back, with her feet in the air. I ran up there and discovered she was bloated and suffocating, and even though Lynn and I tried to save her, we were too late. Her month-old calf followed us in from the field as we dragged the cow’s body with the feed truck, and we put him in a little pen where we could corner him and feed him with a bottle. Andrea’s 3 kids enjoyed feeding him every time they came out to visit, and 6-year-old Emily named him Nick Nack Paddy Whack Jack.
Three weeks later we suddenly had another orphan, when Onyx died (perhaps from a heart attack—she was perfectly fine that morning and sometime mid-day she dropped in her tracks without a struggle) and left little Buffalo Girl without a mother. When we got that calf in from the field, she was too wild and scared to nurse a bottle, and we finally had to give her that first substitute meal via stomach tube.
The next time, she still refused to suck a bottle, until I trickled a little milk down her throat with a dose syringe. Her tummy was so happy for the milk that her scared brain finally got the message, and she started sucking the bottle. We put her with Paddy Whack Jack and the two of them lived together that summer, eating grass in the back yard and pens, and coming happily to anyone with a bottle.
Emily helped feed these calves whenever she came to visit, and she and Buffalo Girl developed a special bond. The little black heifer allowed Emily to pet her anytime, anywhere, and would come to Emily to eat a handful of picked grass. Paddy Whack Jack was pushy and ornery, but Buffalo Girl was always calm and gentle and trusting, entranced by this small child.
That spring Em finished kindergarten and our two older grandchildren finished 5th and 7th grade. Young Heather was student of the year for her 7th grade class. Heather and Nick helped ride range and move cattle several times that summer. They were both in 4-H and enjoyed showing their horses. Little Emily liked to ride, too, and sometimes when I’d come home from riding range I’d let her ride my horse around the barnyard.
I finally started sorting some of the piles that had been accumulating in my office, discovering things (including some pieces of unopened mail) dating back to the summer of 2000. Time passed us by for a while that year, as we struggled to just hang on and do the bare essentials. Our lives were put on hold for many months as we struggled to deal with Andrea’s injuries and everything that needed to be done for her, and it was taking a long time to catch up.
One of the highlights of our summer in 2004 was getting to finally meet some friends from Pennsylvania who came West for a vacation. They stayed here a week to go horseback riding and float the river. This was a farm family we’d corresponded with for 4 years. Dwight was one of the first of many people who wrote to us after Andrea’s burn accident, after he read about it in one of the columns I wrote for a farm magazine. He was burned as a young man, 19 years earlier, while trying to save his family’s barn after a gasoline explosion set it on fire. He’d been through all the problems Andrea was facing, and his letters of encouragement were a great help to her, and to Lynn and me, as we struggled through the first months and years of her recovery. In his letters, he encouraged Andrea, telling her that the terrible itching and discomfort of her grafts would gradually ease, and that life would become good again. He said that in some ways his burn injuries were hardest on his parents, who could not bear to see their child suffering. His letter was one of the first we received from total strangers, offering hope and encouragement.
Other friends (Beth and Mike) came to visit us later that summer, and Beth rode with me to check cattle on the range. We also rode through the burned area on our high range, to look at the aftermath of the range fire the previous year. In some places the grass was coming back nicely, but in other areas where the fire burned really hot (burning down through topsoil to the rocks) the bare areas were filling in with weeds. Much of the ground under the burned trees was still black, with nothing growing yet. The fire burned several miles of fence between our allotment and the Forest range, and some of our cattle strayed into the wrong range. It took many days of riding that fall to find them, and some went home with the neighbor’s cattle.
That fall Andrea went back to Salt Lake for her semi-annual checkup, taking her two youngest children with her, and Emily stayed with us (so she wouldn’t miss school). Em rode the school bus with Nick and young Heather, and every afternoon after school she went with Lynn out to Andrea’s place to do their chores—feed the horse, the dog and the fish. Andrea’s checkup assessing her grafts and health issues went well, and we were glad for that bit of progress.
The dark cloud looming, however, was that Andrea’s marriage was going through increasingly difficult times. We agonized for her and tried to help her and Mark as best we could, but there were limits in what we could do. The challenges that come along in life certainly remind us that we are never really in control, that unexpected winds can come along and blow us into strange lands. But I was so thankful we had some "lessons" in earlier phases of our journey, to know that no matter what happens, we are loved, and the One who loves us will always see us through the storms.
The journey continues to be an emotional roller-coaster. A letter from a dear friend, a mother of another burn survivor, mentioned how after her son’s accident she weeps so readily. In my reply I told her that Lynn and I have both been affected this way, too, ever since Andrea's accident. Our emotions are so thinly covered that they burst through. Like our children's fragile skin, our protective layers that we earlier hid beneath were burned away by the fire, and the patch-up graft we've tried to replace these with is more transparent and easily parted.
It's as though we are more touched by everything that happens; our sensitivities to what happens to other people are now more raw and exposed. We can't ignore the deepness of feelings, or keep ourselves removed from what others are feeling. We are pricked and touched, by joys as well as sorrows. We have become much more feeling creatures. It's as though we've tapped into the very lifeline nerves and arteries of humanity and are much more acutely aware of our connectedness.
Yet we also seem to be a little afraid of this vast openness and connectedness, maybe still trying to protect ourselves from such depths of feeling. I still try to resist suffering, even though I know that it's the best reminder of Love, and the only way to stretch and grow until something deep inside us breaks and enables the heart and soul to expand and hold more.
I sometimes ask myself WHY do we need such constant reminders of the truths we've learned on our precarious journey? WHY must we have to be jerked up short when life gets easy and we become complacent again? Maybe this problem (of so easily slipping into complacency and blindness) is why some seekers of Truth locked themselves away in monasteries and other places of retreat to try to focus more fully on THE WAY and not be distracted by life's trivialities, but I don't think that's the best solution. I think life itself, out in the tough real world, is the best environment for getting the maximum good from our journey, since it periodically forces us to take detours from what we thought was an easy path. It forces us to confront realities along the way, and scramble through thickets, briars and bogs--and take the hand of One who can lead us through the dangerous spots when we realize we can't make it on our own (even though we maybe thought we could).
And it is only out in the real world that we truly bump into one another and connect, and find that we are all children of God, and loved, and that we share so much (especially with our fragile layers ripped off so we can't hide behind our carefully built facades).
As I mentioned to my friend whose son was burned, all that matters is LOVE. But, oh how we try to cover up that truth in everyday life and blunder along without touching. I guess that's why I am actually grateful for the experience our burned children gave us. It opened up such a vast new understanding and caring. Indeed, I know that we are more able to rejoice, in so MANY things, because we have been privileged to know sorrow. Life is a seeming paradox. The deeper that sorrow carves into our soul, the more joy we can hold. We cannot know true joy until we have experienced sorrow.
The past few years have been a blink. It doesn't take much to plunge us back into the feelings of 2000. That experience is still vivid and raw (and each year I mentally walk through the events of that summer and am aware of the anniversaries that roll around). This is the night she got burned, this is the hour she was flying to Salt Lake on the life flight, this is the day she fell out of bed and cracked open the back of her head and the skin grafts on her elbows, this is the day she was moved from the ICU, this is the day Em and I finally got to go see her, this is the day she got to leave the hospital and become an outpatient, this is the day SHE GOT TO COME HOME, this is the day.... No, we can never forget.
Yet, time has a way of softening the edges. We can still plunge right back into that frame of the movie, but we also have the counterbalancing knowledge of how it progressed, how it didn't end right there, how we were led through successive scenes and were brought through the valley of the shadow, and learned to trust (though I still need reminders!! but the reminders do jerk me back to reality and assurance, thank God!!) That's the beauty of the journey. We have a Guide, and now we are more aware of Him, and that He does hold us in His hand, no matter what.
And I know that I can never be the same. I may at times be complacent and forgetful and caught up in the smallness of fret or worry, or dissipate my focus onto things that don't really matter, but underneath it all I realize my purpose in life has changed from what I earlier perceived it to be. Now the only important thing is love, and trying to be connected, and trying to help others who are struggling through pain and dark thickets along their own journey.
Our love for our wounded children has opened up a well of love that is greater than we ever imagined, and we want to share it with others. I feel so small and inadequate to do these things that I now feel called to do, but I also know that even the unimaginable is possible, so I struggle on, to try to make a difference where I can. I am a poor tool, but who am I to question. I think I'm just supposed to trust and follow. Maybe someday us “mothers” should compile a book about "faith by ordeal".