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.