Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15, 2010 Late Fall 2004 – Another hurdle crossed, and a good Thanksgiving

Andrea was expecting her fourth child in mid November 2004, but started having labor pains more than a month early. An ultrasound check showed that the baby weighed only about 4 pounds at that point in time. Fortunately things quieted down and the pregnancy continued. In late October she had another checkup and the doctor thought the baby was more ready, and made an appointment for Andrea to go to Hamilton, Montana (100 miles away) to meet with a doctor there. Due to problems in our local hospital at that time, most obstetrical patients were being sent to other towns to have their babies. While Andrea made the trip to Hamilton for her checkup, Emily, Charlie and little Samantha stayed with us.

Andrea had labor pains again November 1 and we thought she and Mark would have to make a fast trip over the mountains to Hamilton, but again it was a false alarm. The next day we had a severe snowstorm and bad roads, so we hoped they wouldn’t have to travel that day. On November 4, Andrea was sure it was the real thing this time; she called us at 3 a.m. and Lynn drove 25 miles to her place to stay with the kids until they woke up, and then brought them home to our house. Mark and Andrea headed over the mountains and made it to Hamilton by 6:30 a.m.

She gave birth to a baby girl, Danielle, at 11 a.m. The baby weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces and was healthy. The birth went fine, but Andrea started hemorrhaging immediately afterward; she suddenly became dizzy and nearly passed out while she was holding the newborn baby. She had to be taken into surgery to halt the bleeding and to remove a piece of placenta that was still in the uterus—that hadn’t been detected with the ultrasound. Her fleeting thought as they took her to surgery was remembering that her grandmother—Lynn’s mother—died during childbirth (and the baby died with her) when Lynn was 8 years old. She bled to death in spite of extensive blood transfusions. This was a very sobering memory for all of us.

A couple months before Andrea was due to have her baby, we had grumbled a little about the fact that politics and problems here in our local hospital made it such that she had to go out of town to have this baby, but in the end it was for the best and we were very thankful. I think the Lord watches out for us better than we can.

The doctor in Hamilton wasn't able to find the cause of bleeding, so he immediately took her into surgery and scoped the uterus—to find out whether she had a ruptured uterus or some other problem--and discovered some mushy placenta still in there. So he removed that material, which resolved the serious bleeding. We learned later that our local hospital had the equipment to do endoscopic examination of the uterus, but no one here knew how to use it or read it, so it was a good thing that Andrea had to go somewhere else to have that baby! God does work in mysterious ways, and who are we to think we know best.

She had a rough time after the surgery, but the doctor let her come home the next day. We helped her with the kids because she was in a lot of pain for about a week, partly from the incisions that were made for scoping her uterus to determine the cause of bleeding. Little Charlie (3 years old) had just started pre-school (a Head Start program) 4 days a week, and Lynn often went to town to pick him up at school, since he got out too early to ride the bus with Emily.

When Andrea, baby and Mark went back to Hamilton for her 3-week checkup, the kids stayed with us again, and Emily helped me with the evening chores. She wanted to see her pet calf, Buffalo Girl, who was now with a group of weaned heifers. It had been a couple months since Emily had seen Buffalo Girl, and I wasn’t sure the calf would be as gentle and trusting as she was earlier. She’d become more suspicious of humans after we tagged and vaccinated her with the other calves in September, and no longer let Lynn or me pet her. But when Emily and I walked out in the field and called her, Buffalo Girl came from the far end of the field and seemed glad to see Emily, letting the child feed her a mouthful of hay and pet her. The calf and kid had a special bond; she was definitely Emily’s cow!

At Thanksgiving, Andrea insisted on cooking a big dinner, in spite of the fact she wasn’t completely recuperated from having the baby. We brought part of the food, and Emily was at our house the day before, helping me make a pumpkin cake. That child loves to cook.

We had a lot to be thankful for, that Thanksgiving—our daughter still with us (after several “close calls” in her young life), and our beautiful grandchildren. We were glad to have both our children living nearby, so we can watch our grandkids grow up. We were grateful that our son and his family were utilizing part of our ranch for their cattle (along with another leased place), since Lynn and I were starting to slow down, and downsizing our own cattle operation.

Raising cattle and horses has been one of the abiding passions of my life, but these past few years had widened my focus and I was not as reluctant as I thought I’d be about giving up part of our herd. I suppose I've been guilty of being more of a hermit than most people. I was too insecure and timid as a young person to feel at ease with people--even though I desperately wanted to be. This is probably one reason why I loved animals so much and chose to spend a life working with them rather than with people... since animals were (for me) easier to deal with--always honest and open, easier for me to be in tune with. Yet now I feel those early years were partly a preparation for what I was ultimately supposed to do.
I think God was patiently waiting for me to grow up. Now I feel a compulsion to love and help people as much as I can. The sojourn that began in Salt Lake at the burn ICU was the start of a new door opening, stripping away some of my complacency and contentment (and even the fanatic passion of care I'd been giving to my animals all those years) and I realized I CAN live without my critters if I must, and that my all-consuming drive to take care of them and survive in ranching is really not my whole vocation. It is definitely a vocation and a way of life, but I've been gently pushed into moving on to broader focus.

After the abrupt jerk-around with Andrea's accident, my life took a different direction. It wasn’t very obvious at first, but gradually more and more. My focus changed and I realized I could no longer run away from what I suspect I was intended to do all along, but as a young person didn't have the courage, strength or ability to do.

Where once I gave of myself utterly for my critters (24-hour-a-day focus during calving season, for instance, or riding range daily in summer to check on the cattle and take care of any problems) I now am compelled to focus on people, and love them. I'm still inhibited and fettered by my limitations (as a shy person, I still do best staying home and writing) but I find that perhaps I can use my writing as a way to help others.
Physically and emotionally, it wears me out to go to town or be among people, but I can relate to them better now--with more focus, compassion, tolerance and love, without so much of "me" getting in the way; there's still self-consciousness, but not as much. The pilgrimage that began in Salt Lake is ongoing, gradually stripping away some of my defensiveness and the walls I'd put between myself and other people.

I am a poor tool for helping others, but I feel I’m being led by the same Love that carried Lynn and me through the darkest jungle we'd ever been lost in. I guess God can even use crude and graceless tools (like myself) for His purpose, so I'm humbly trying to find that "fit" in His hands. I know that I find my most peaceful (worry free) and happy moments now when connecting with and loving someone else, trying to encourage a friend who's gone through trauma or a friend who is fighting cancer or some other serious challenge. Somehow, in some small way, maybe we can make a difference for someone or brighten their day, as others did for us. When Lynn and I were struggling and trying to keep from sinking, there were hands that reached out to us and helped us through it.

In 2004 we scaled down our ranching (from 160 cows to 30) and even though I still had a few horses, I didn't ride as often—just using the horses to move our cattle from pasture to pasture here on the place, or to help our kids move cows on the range. They were using our range permit and we no longer put our cattle out there. I never thought I could give this up (at least not until I was physically unable to do it), but Salt Lake changed all that. The fanatic passion shifted. It's nice to still have some animals, but they are not my defining focus now. I spend most of each day writing rather than working with critters, and Lynn has more time for doing a few other things like helping Andrea with all her little kids (he often drove the 25 miles to her place to stay with the kids on days she had to go to town). When one door shuts, another opens. We've been able to survive financially without the big cow herd, due to the increase in my writing (books and articles) and are able to continue helping our kids, and hopefully helping other people, too.
I am slowly, slowly learning not to worry so much, and to just have faith that things will work out, one way or another. Sometimes the way is not clear, and we don't know how it can work out, but God seems to give us answers, or help us find ways to cope, no matter what happens. Some days are harder than others, and sometimes it's impossible to see or know how certain challenges can work out, but I'm learning to trust.

We continue praying for several friends who are fighting cancer and other serious problems, and marveling at how Love is leading them through. No matter what the outcome, some of them are celebrating whatever amount of time they have left. They have been blessed in spite of pain and setbacks, making every day count. The openness, the love, the peace they have, is inspiring. There are all kinds of miracles. A person doesn't have to be saved from death to have a miracle. Sometimes I think the greatest miracle is just the awakening of our soul to Love.

This doesn't mean we won't become "down" and fretful, or grumpy in our painful moments, or angry or petty. Most of us are still like small children in our progress and not very far along in our struggle toward awareness, and we still get crabby and cranky or selfish at times. But I am grateful for the awareness of Love that now can so easily jerk me back to a bigger Reality, once again reminding me that life is so much more than pain or hate or pettiness or judging someone else, and not bound by suffering or death. Those things are temporary. And we can get beyond them. We can celebrate the joy of our connectedness and rejoice in the wonder of such Love that can comfort and support us all.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1, 2010 Kids and Calves, and thoughts about our journey…

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".